The Venice meltdown

I was a jerk on the train. Both the night prior and all that morning had been spent waiting and waiting for a reply from the Bank Manager, nothing came. The washing machine tripped the power in the hostel and guess who’s clothes just so happened to be in the machine at the time!? The staff had left at 6pm, I’d run up and down the stairs all evening flicking the power back on so the occupants could benefit from 10 minutes of internet before it failed again, all in the hope my phone might buzz with a message. The washing machine still couldn’t be persuaded to do it’s thing in the morning so I was forced to stuff soaking wet clothes into my case, planning to re-wash upon arrival in Venice.

That morning an intense storm danced over Florence, smashing hail the size of golf balls into the streets, setting off car alarms and blocking gutters. Having waited out most of the drama and with risk of missing my train, I had no choice but to brave the elements. The road was now a river, the only option to cross was by a running jump any Olympian would be proud of but first I had to swing my suitcase over. Weighing at least 5 tons from all the wet washing and taking strength I didn’t know I possessed, I launched it across the water, watching it land with a thud on the other side.

cleaning the streets Florence

Typically I boarded the wrong end of the over packed train, struggling with the 10 ton case, pushing, squeezing and tutting myself down the aisles. With no expense spared I’d paid extra for an actual seat, no sitting on the floor for me! With sheer determination, arms shaking under the pressure and on the brink of completely keeling over I managed to lug the 15 ton case into the overhead racks. ‘Umm I think you’re in my seat?’ I exasperated at the old man. ‘No’ came his sharp reply. Oh come on! ‘Errr well you are!’ I rebutted. ‘Check your ticket’ he looked bemused. Damn it! I hate it when I’m wrong! I looked at the seat numbers, I looked at the seat. In my place, next to the old man sat a rather large gentleman with crutches. I made him move. All the passengers stared at me as he huffed and puffed, struggling between the table and seat; they said it with their eyes ‘selfish English girl!’ but I’d paid for this seat, my clothes were all wet, I’d swam through a hail storm, the Bank Manager didn’t love me any more, my mum was dead, I just wanted to sit down, I’m not a bad person, honest!

venice

Venice. Beautiful, lovely, romantic Venice… Alone. I boarded a boat, in the sunshine we glided down the Grand Canal, the light reflecting sparkles on the water. We passed  snap happy tourists staring in wonder at every corner, couples walking hand in hand along the narrow streets giggling to each other, waiters setting down bowls of steaming hot pasta on chequered red and white covered tables and ornate bridges arching over passing gondolas. As stunning as the place was, all I wanted was to get to the hostel, wash and dry my clothes, get some food in my belly and check if there was any news from the Bank Manager. ‘There was still time, he could still come out, there had to be an explanation’ I told myself. Eventually, on an island looking across to Piazza San Marco I found my hostel, a converted warehouse with exposed brick work, a long curved wooden bar and deep sofas that looked impossible to climb out of; I liked it immediately. Midnight shaded ink blots began to weep across the sky outside, a tightness hung in the air, I’d arrived just in time.

Venice storm

They looked at the computer, they looked at me ‘yeah, so you booked for next Friday, not for today’. ‘Ughh, ok, well can you book me in for tonight instead then?’ I asked, annoyed at myself. ‘Sorry we’re fully booked for tonight’. I could feel the prickle of heat behind my eyes, I so desperately just wanted to sit down. They called and called, eventually finding me another hostel for the night and sliding a hand drawn map across the bar to me. I turned my head and stared at the now poisoned sky ‘I’d run if I were you’ advised the staff. The first drops fell as I yanked the 20 ton case through the hostel doors, back into the world. Within seconds the sky had broken apart, the clouds so low you could almost touch them. Gondolas on the canals rolled like ships at sea and great spikes of lightning attacked the city. It would had been quite enchanting had I not been hiding in a boat bus shelter, pulling on the only dry pair of leggings I had over the top of shorts and struggling into a hoodie.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I followed the instructions on the map. I dragged my 25 ton case across cobbled streets, heaved it up a thousand steps on a bridge and down the other side but the river wasn’t where it should have been. I asked an old lady outside a church for directions, she pointed me back over the bridge. Light headed from the lack of food, wet and miserable, I bashed the 30 ton case over every single step of that bridge as couples clutched close to each other under umbrellas lost in the romance of the storm. I ran for a boat, my ticket wouldn’t work – it turns out train tickets don’t pass the electronic scanners for boats! I stormed back out into the rain, determined to find a ticket terminal and demand to know why my ticket was now not working but only succeeded in finding the ticket booth closed. Angry at the world I spun around, loosing grip on both my suitcase and my balance. I crashed to the floor, my knee slamming painfully into the gutter, the paper map disintegrating into a puddle. Picking myself up, I did what any normal girl would do faced with such circumstances. I stamped my foot, threw my hands over my face and there, under the light from a lonely street lamp, in the heart of a storm, I burst into tears.

lampost rain

A German lady tentatively stepped into my doom, carefully reaching out with her hand in the way you might approach a wild animal, scared it might turn and bite at any second, she touched my shoulder ‘are you, are you ok?’ she enquired. My wits came back to me suddenly ‘oh god, what am I doing! I’m crying in the streets like a crazy person! I’m crying because some boy told me he loved me and then proved he didn’t. I’m crying because everything seems such hard work these days. I’m crying because I don’t know where I belong in the world any more. I’m crying because my mums dead and my boyfriend left and my best friend hates me and I don’t have a home and I’m lonley and and and I’m crying because I’m scared’ of course that would have been all too much to explain to a stranger in the dark under the rumble of thunder so instead I whimpered ‘I’m lost’. She patted my back and beckoned over her husband who proceeded to try and work out where I was going – something I had managed to ascertain myself by that point but was too busy trying to wipe away all the snot dripping from my nose with the back of my hand to communicate, so I stood there and let them fuss over the map for me instead.

crying in the rain

Eventually I found the hostel.  A sullen, twisted man led me into the office, he was all business and no courtesies as he took my money. At the top of winding stairs I found my room, consisting of five camp beds set up in a row, these would later be occupied by four men who shared with me neither their names nor their smiles. Internet could only be found in a small corridor on the ground floor, crammed full of dark souls trying to get their Facebook fix. I ventured back out to the streets, determined to find warmth, food and wifi. And beer, beer was needed! Waiting for the pasta to arrive and staring in disbelief that no message had come through from the Bank Manager, I was oblivious to the man getting down on his knee outside the window until I heard the excited squeal of some girl and the cheer from the other customers. ‘Ughhhhhhhhhh, piss off!!!!!’

venice proposal

The next morning I opened my eyes to see a bed bug scurry across my pillow. Leaping up I picked and flicked the bugs off my clothes, squishing a few as I went, watching the bright red liquid erupt from their shells, the liquid they’d sucked out of my body whilst I’d slept. I escaped that hell hole just as quickly as I could, returning to my little restaurant for breakfast and wifi, checking right back into the first hostel again. The rest of that day was spent in the laundry room, washing every item of clothing and inspecting my case from any signs of bugs. The Bank Manager emailed that night, he’d lost his phone on some staff evening out. He apologised for the delay in contact, he didn’t mention why he hadn’t come, he didn’t mention his broken promise.

day spent doing laundry

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Old Roman mistakes and new Florentine ones

The train paused in Rome; I didn’t get off with the other tourists. We’d flown over for a long weekend two years prior, then my new boyfriend, now my ex. Six months before pregnancy and abortions, before cancer and death; right at the very start of every thing. It was my birthday, we had walked around the Colosseum in the sun, got lost in time in the garden of ruins, sat on steps and eaten ice cream. We put on our smartest clothes and my new boyfriend took me to a tiny Roman restaurant buried in an alleyway behind the Trevi fountain.

trevi fountain

It rained for the rest of that trip; down the Spanish steps, up St Peter’s basilica, against the windows of the Vatican. It seeped into my shoes, making my toes damp and chilling my bones. We’d got angry in the street with each other, I was wet and miserable, bursting for the toilet; he wanted to stop for espresso, I stood there bouncing on the spot, trying not to wet myself or die of cold whilst he sipped at his coffee. We took shelter in the only Irish bar in the city. Having relieved one problem, I tackled the second by drinking through the cold, staring at this man, wondering if he was really ‘the one’ and if my life would be spent getting frustrated as his priorities came before mine. He’d left his ex for me, I felt trapped, like I owed him something, I rebelled. Before we were ‘official’ I slept with someone else, I needed to prove to myself that I really did like this new guy, the logic seemed sound at the time. We drank and drank in the Irish bar and before I knew it the alcohol had loosened by tongue and I was confessing my crime. It had been a very long flight home as we both hammered in the nails of our relationship coffin, right at the start, before we’d even begun. So I didn’t get off the train in Rome, I let Rome slip past the windows whilst the train hurried me out of town on to Florence.

rome view

Florence is simply stunning, it’s believed to be the birth place of the Renaissance, of course it is, how could any artist surrounded with such beauty not start a ‘re-birth’ bringing a little perspective into the world? (for any none arty people reading this, the Renaissance period bridged the gap between the Medieval world and the Modern world, bringing in techniques such as depth and perspective for the first time, changing the way people saw the world).

Florence

The hostel was a converted town house sitting alongside the river, looked after by a sweet Romanian girl who couldn’t do enough to help. Six bunk beds were crammed into a tiny room, it felt more like a teenage girls sleepover than a hostel; I half expected midnight feasts and whispered secrets about first kisses. Name cards identified whose bed was whose, the bunk above mine was occupied by a girl from Melbourne. I was starting to think perhaps the universe was re-populating my friend list, slotting in people from Melbourne at my every turn in Italy so that when I finally stepped off the plane in Australia a few weeks later, I’d already have a social life. We went for dinner and plotted to visit the nearby Pisa together the next day.

leaning tower of pisa sky

That night Bank Manager text me for hours. He promised to meet me in Venice. ‘Have you booked the plane yet? Please just book the plane, then I know it’s really going to happen’ I typed. ‘I will be there, if I have to take a new credit card out to afford the flight I will, I promise, I never break promises, I will be there’ he lied.

Man riding bike Florence

Two more Australian girls arrived in our room, 19 from the Gold Coast they were full of life and excitement, spending 5 months going everywhere they could in Europe. They’d come back drunk in the evenings, one taking care of the other, swapping roles for the next night. They hugged each other in the mornings through the hangovers. They were such close friends, buzzing with life like the whole world was theirs for the taking, not yet dragged down by any of the harshness of life that your twenties throw at you. They swept you up with their enthusiasm, carrying you along for however briefly on their brightness. I was a little jealous if I’m honest, jealous of seeing the world with such lightness.

The next day an American girl arrived with bright red hair, a nose piercing and edgy clothes. We walked around the streets of Florence, crossing the river and getting lost in the old town. We sat in a restaurant and I laughed as the waiters flirted with her which she, completely none fazed, battered them away with all this American confidence in the same way you might swat away a fly. One waiter deciding he was getting nowhere with her, followed me into the toilet and locked the door ‘get out, I need to pee!’ I yelled at him ‘we go for drinks tonight yes?’ he propositioned and leaned in ‘No! Get the hell out of my toilet!’ I instructed him. ‘Ciao Bellas’ the waiters called after us once we’d finished our meal, mocking with their sly Italian smiles as if all women were a game to be played.

florence sky line

I told my American friend my story, it spilled out onto the cobbled streets as we walked. Then she told me hers. A year or so before she’d travelled to Israel to see the old country of her relatives. She found herself hiding in bomb shelters as missiles fell from the sky, she witnessed the effects of war, the fear people woke with every morning, she made friends, fell in love with a boy and eventually, she went home to America where everything was safe. She’d sit in her 9 to 5 job helping rich people choose the perfect cupboard handles for their bespoke kitchen cabinets. She would go to dinner with friends, drive to the movies, share beers with boys but she couldn’t shake this feeling that she wasn’t really living, that her whole life was safe and easy, that it wasn’t real, she couldn’t live in that world any more. One day she picked up her bags, flew back to Europe and was in the middle of her travels when I met her, two weeks later she reached Israel and unpacked for good.

holding up the leaning tower of pisa

We contemplated queuing to see Michaelangelo’s ‘David’ but it was hours long and we didn’t have the time to spare. I visited the fake one on the hill instead which stood in place of the original, it’s eyes still staring towards Rome with a warning glare. Marble was expensive back in the day, two other artists had tried to carve David from the block but were unable to do so. Years later, Michaelangelo received the commission, at only 26 he spent the next two years uncovering David from the rock. The statue is so large it demands the audience look up to it, to compensate for this height he is actually out of proportion, his head larger than it should be. Michaelangelo decided not to finish the top of his head, for no one would ever see it, technically the worlds most famous statue has a bald spot!

statue of david

I held off booking accommodation in Venice, I was waiting for the Bank Manager to book his flight, I stayed an extra day in Florence, biding my time. I waited as long as I could and when he didn’t reply to my messages I got on the train with a heavy heart, heading somewhere no one should go alone.

florence street sign

The phallicness of Pompeii

Somewhat ignorantly, I presumed everyone spoke English in Europe. Alas this was not the case in Naples! After much faffing and sweating (due to dressing for the cold morning flight out of Athens and not changing into something more fitting for the southern Italian summer once landing) I eventually found the bus transfer and settled to slowly melt into the bus seat, once again re-reading my directions to the hostel.

We had it all planned, she’d turn 63 and then four days later I’d turn 30. It would be our last holiday together before I left for Australia. We’d hire a car and drive through Tuscany. We’d eat pasta in courtyards, walk arm in arm along the canals, hold up the tower in pictures, cycle bikes through vineyards trying not to wobble off after too many glasses of white. Of course she never saw her 63rd and I woke up alone in her house on my 30th. Not to be beaten and nearing the year anniversary of her death, I decided to do the trip for my mother any way.

Italian road trip

But really I had no clue what I was doing. Sure I’d done organised tour groups or flown into places for the weekend but I’d never not had things booked, or a set plan or knew where I’d be sleeping the next day. Plus, having spent almost a week alone in Santorini I was beginning to freak out a little, maybe I couldn’t do this after all, maybe everything was a mistake. Perhaps I should fly home and beg my company to let me keep my job, I could ask friends if I could curl up on their couch forever and maybe they’d be so kind as to drag a blanket over my shoulders at night before they retire to their beds? ‘Let’s just get to the hostel, have a shower, put something cool on and find some wifi to see if Bank Manager has messaged and then we’ll figure out a plan‘ I instructed myself.

As these thoughts rolled around my head I looked up to see a tall, blonde girl dragging the worlds largest suitcase towards the bus and wearing the biggest smile across her face. ‘Wow, she must be really happy about getting this bus‘ I though ‘well that or she’s nuts‘ either way, she looked nice, like someone I could maybe be friends with.

Blonde with suitcase

The bus spat out its contents in the centre of Naples. It wasn’t the prettiest place I’d been, mopeds whirled past, men shouted in the streets, the gutters were filled with litter and I couldn’t tell left from right.

I looked behind me as Blonde heaved the enormous case onto the pavement, we made eye contact and I meekly offered a smile meaning to convey ‘yeah, I’ve been there, I can feel your pain’ to which she responded, bubbling over with ‘Are you English? Can you speak English? Have you just got here?’. ‘Yayyyy someone wants to talk to meeeeee!!!’ I thought, ‘now try and act like a normal person and be cool!’ I told myself.

We swapped details and arranged to meet for dinner. That’s how easy it is to make a new friend sometimes. As it turns out, she was Australian, had been travelling in Europe for a few months, some time spent on tours, some with family and some on her own. She’d just come off the back of spending far too many days alone and had told herself the next time she saw someone who looked as if they might speak English she was going to make the effort, only the first time she’d choked (seems I’m not the only person who finds talking to someone new the most terrifying thing in the world!), after that she was determined that she would speak the next time and the next time just happened to be me! Oh the reason she’d been so happy about getting on the bus was because the airport had lost her bag the day before and she’d happened to go to the airport that day in the tiniest hope it had turned up, it had.

Back streets of Naples

She pointed me in the direction of the underground system. I still managed to get lost. I stopped an old man, holding out my map and asking for the train. He waved in a general direction and dismissed me in that way the Italians do. Unfortunately another man overheard and offered me his assistance. ‘No no I’m fine thank you, I know where I’m going now, the station’s just there. Where am I staying? Well over here, you see, but really I’m fine, I just get on the train two stops and then I’m there’. It wasn’t far he informed me. I could walk he said. 10 minutes that’s all. Here, he would walk me there. ‘Oh no, I’m fine, really, I’m fine, I’ll just get the train thank you very much’.

He looked affronted ‘ohhh you lazy English girl?’ he questioned. Well no one wants to be the ‘lazy English girl’ do they! But I also didn’t want to be kidnapped and sold into the sex slave trade (although I’m possibly too old for that market – although any kind of slave trade would not be ideal). So I was stuck, my bruised ego didn’t want to reinforce the perception this man had that my country was full of lazy overweight people who didn’t walk but nor did I want to risk a vulnerable situation. Perhaps this was the way in Italy, maybe people are just friendlier, perhaps I’d been in London too long, too cautious and unable to recognise genuine people?

untrustworthy man

Reluctantly I let him lead me in the direction of the hostel. As we walked up old cobbled alleyways I waited for a car to pull up at any second and him to grab my suitcase. The important stuff was in my handbag, I could leave the suitcase if needs be and run for it. I held my phone in my hand checking we were walking in the correct direction ‘you don’t trust me’ he’d say sulking. I’d smile and try to reassure him I was just being cautious but this was lost in the language barrier. Up and up we walked in the lazy summer heat, no time to stop to remove my hoodie, my legs sweltering in the leggings and boots. We tried to make small talk, I think he was a potter from outside Naples, he had spent his whole life travelling in and out of the city but been nowhere else in the country.

 lost man

He was 39 and single. ‘You have a boyfriend?’ he enquired. ‘Yep! Umm he’s like 6’5 and built like a warrior and super protective and errr at the hostel waiting for me and super strong and and and yep, did I mention protective? Yep, definitely have a boyfriend!’. He didn’t believe me. ‘I like you, I give you tour of the city yes?’. ‘Ummm no, sorry it’s not that I don’t appreciate you walking me the 50 minutes to my hostel and getting us lost twice and watching you have a fight with the lady you asked for directions from or your constant questions asking if I’m single but to be honest you’re freaking me out and I’ve made this new friend so I’d rather meet her for dinner but thanks ever so’. We parted ways at the bottom of the hill. It took me another half an hour to find the hostel. I was expecting the hostel to be as friendly as the one in Iceland but no one spoke, good thing I was going to hangout with Blonde instead then!

 blonde and brunette friends

After an evening spent deciding that we were both as kooky as each other it was arranged we would day trip it to Pompeii together the next day.

It turns out, it’s easier said than done when it comes to meeting at a train station in Naples. We missed each other for an hour, or to be precise, Blonde waited where we’d arranged to meet and I couldn’t find it. Eventually I found a policeman, she found a train guard, we handed our phones over to each and train guard informed the policeman where I needed to go to meet my new friend. Unfortunately, despite the policeman understanding exactly what the train guard had said, he didn’t understand a word of English and could relay none of the information to me. On the cusp of giving up, she found me and finally, we were on our way.

pompeii street

Everyone knows the story of Pompeii; the eruption of Mount Vesuvius covering the city and all it’s inhabitance in ash, leaving them buried and undiscovered for centuries. I wasn’t aware how important a port the city was or just how promiscuous the Romans were!

I thought we’d be standing on wooden walk ways, guided by ropes as we looked down on old ruins but it wasn’t like that at all. It was a real city, full of paved roads, buildings you could enter, frescos on the walls, painting, ornaments. It would have been so easy to slip through the cracks of time and fall right back into the city life, looking at the smoking mountain behind us.

pompeii

The ancient Romans had a very different point of view on sexual morals than we accept in modern times. This became very apparent as we wondered around the once buried city. Sexual frescos adorned the walls, phallic shaped mosaics on the pavements directed tourists to the brothels (or sailors back in the day). Penis shaped ceramics stuck into the streets above doorways.

pompeii phallic streets

The brothel houses had been build purposely with small bedrooms and windows over narrow streets allowing staff to lean out and attract business. We wandered past houses just for male on male pleasure, some for females only and brothel bathing houses complete with mosaics of sexual positions.

During one of the main excavations of the site in the enlightenment period, the majority of phallic objects were classified and then put in a secret room which was bricked up and forgotten about. Locked metal cabinets were put over frescos which could be shown for a fee to gentlemen but not ladies, this continued right up until the 1960’s. Only accessible to ‘people of mature age and respected morals’ meaning those educated upper-class types! This collection has been closed and reopened to the public for over 100 years, finally being re-opened in 2010 but still kept in a separate room at the Naples National Archaeological Museum.

Pompeii frescos

More shocking than all this sexuality in the city was the plaster casts of some of the people. When they excavated the site they realised that there were holes left where the bodies had been when they died, with the ash holding their shape. Well some bright spark realised if they pumped plaster (resin is used today rather than plaster to help preserve the bones) it would maintain the shape. You can now walk around the city and find these plaster casts of these people who died over 1000 years ago, you can literally see the pained expressions on their faces as they choked to death. Some are bent over, clearly in pain, one however is err, well without sounding too crude about it, is having one last play on the stick! Frozen forever in time, never quite reaching his climax (or at least that’s how I saw it)!

pompeii frozen person

We left this fascinating city and found some tourist trap with terrible service for lunch. Blonde was conveniently from Melbourne, the exact place I would arrive at a few weeks later. She too had experienced a slightly turbulent couple of years and was just coming out the other side, we seemed to be in sync with our place in the world. We nattered away like two old ladies putting the world to rights. And then we went a climbed a mountain.

mount vesuvius

Mount Vesuvius looks like two small mountains or one humpbacked mountain depending on your take on it however it was once, one giant mountain, that was of course until it blew its top off and landed on Pompeii and the surrounding smaller cities. It’s also technically still active!

It did occur to me that I’d spent quite a lot of time around volcanoes this year  – horse riding up one in Easter Island, spending a weekend in Iceland which lets be honest, the entire country is basically one giant volcano and one that just so happened to be spitting out lava as my plane flew away, then there was Santorini and the site of the Minoan eruption and finally I found myself on top of another active volcano in Italy – perhaps the universe was telling me I needed to blow my top too? Well any way, scientists monitor the sulphur levels emitting from the volcano every day in case it’s threatens to blow again. Unfortunately there are quite a number more residences (and tourists) in Pompei and surrounding areas than the 11,000 who were buried all those years ago so let’s hope it doesn’t go off any time soon!

naples pizza

We finished our day eating giant slices of pizza in the streets of Naples, trying to catch that stringy mozzarella from sliding right off onto the floor and failing with each bite. We parted ways as Facebook friends and the next day, I headed north.

 

Atlantis searching in Santorini

Right then, five days, a beautiful Greek island, swimming pool, book, music – let’s do this!
All those months of sleepless nights, never ending tears, heavy limbs and grey days are done with. No more forcing yourself out of bed, making the effort, organising everything, pretending you’re ok. Nope, now is the time all the grief and stress will flood right out, I’ll swim, rest, tan. I’ll get all rejuvenated, I’ll be the picture of health, I’ll be happy, I’ll be better, I will be cured from this illness of grief. All I have to do is relax.

(Deep breath)

relax

Yep just relax, let it all come flooding out, here we go… Hmmm am I burning? Perhaps I should apply some more sun cream. Maybe a swim would do me good, ah no, that couple is still frolicking in the pool, they probably won’t appreciate me swimming laps around them, I feel kind of awkward lying here on my own with all these loved up people around me, shit what if I’m the only single person on the whole island! I wonder what is going on back in England, better check Facebook, ooh ‘like’. Ok back to relaxing. Wow this year has been tough, I mean that wedding! Ugghh and the house sale, and going through all mums stuff. Huh, almost a year since she died, well that’s gone quick. I mean a year! A YEAR! How did the world possibly keep spinning? How have we been all the way around the sun already?! STOP THINKING, must relax.

Why hasn’t Bank Manager text back, I mean it’s been at least twenty minutes since I replied to his message, perhaps I better check my phone again. Mum would like it here. Actually did she come here once? I’ll text her and ask. Let me just grab the phone. Wait, what am I doing, she’s dead! Oh I forgot for a second. Almost a year remember! What was I doing a year ago? Oh yeah, watching her die. God I miss her. Maybe I should cry, would that help? Nah, I’ve done too much of that, I’ve had enough of crying. STOPPP THINKING! Brain stop, we’re relaxing right now. Right, yes, of course, relaxing, got it…. Ughhhhhhh I’m sooooooo boreddddddd!

santorini view

Turns out, relaxing is hard! How do you just stop, I mean what do people do? Like, they just lay there in the sun and get all calm and stuff? How? Someone explain this to me! You just stop? But, but I don’t know how to stop!

I got up and went and hired a quad-bike instead. This wasn’t without a little apprehension, although I consider myself a good driver, I do have a slight thing for speed. At 14 I managed to crash a jet-ski head on into another jet-ski, completely destroying both vehicles in the process and throwing both sets of passengers into the deadly jelly fish infested waters. My poor brother is still nervous about getting in the car with me; forever checking the speedometer and nagging me to slow down.

Henry the Quad bike

So there I was, on one of the most romantic islands in the world, alone and riding around on a quad-bike, desperately trying not to take corners too quickly and risk flying off the cliffs. It seemed all the quads coming the opposite way were comprised of couples, it was always the guy driving. For the record, had I been there with a guy, there is no way I’d have sat on the back seat the entire trip, what’s the fun in that!

Despite the quad konking out on one practice excursion and being forced to walk back to the shop for help, I quickly mastered my quad driving skills and took myself for a half hour ride to Oia.

Sometimes traveling alone as a female, you can’t help but attract unwanted attention, generally people are lovely but there are always some dodgy people out and about! There I was climbing a particularly steep hill which had reduced my quad (now named Henry) to a painfully slow 10 miles an hour. We were giving it our all but Henry was struggling. He was at risk of konking out again and I really didn’t want to have to push him up the hill. Cars overtook, speeding off into the distance which I thought nothing of. Well until one car pulled over at the top of the hill ‘perhaps they’re just admiring the scenic view?’ I assured myself as I continued to will Henry up the incline. Unfortunately, upon successfully reaching the summit and beginning to pick up speed, the drivers side door opened on the pulled over car. Twisting his body I realised the driver of said car had his umm ‘manly equipment’ in hand, angled in my direction. Did he honestly expect me to pull over and get involved!? Ughh! Instead I gave a slight squeal of disgust and forced poor over heating Henry to go as fast as his little wheels could spin, not taking my hand off the gas until we reached Oia.

santorini oia

Parked up and feeling much safer surrounded by other tourists, I was ready to go explore the beautiful Oia. A small town built into the cliff-face consisting of nothing but cobbled, winding streets, white washed buildings and the occasional blue domed roof; all with the most spectacular views across crystal clear waters to the little volcanic island which had once upon a time sat in the middle of a complete island ring.

santorini cliffs

Santorini is in the shape of a crescent moon, in fact it kind of resembles the tattoo I’d got at 15. During one of our frequent trips to London during my teens, when I presume my mother was trying to educate me on culture but I was more interested in the shopping; we’d walked through Leicester Square. Back when the square was filled with portrait drawers and street artists, where you could buy a ‘genuine’ Rolex for £20 or have strands of hair wrapped in fabric, when men sold flowers to pressurised boyfriends for new girlfriends, when you could have your tarot read by an old lady in a head scarf, when the whole area was an unorganised tourist trap for anyone to make or steal a quick buck.

leicester square london

Don’t get me wrong, Leicester Square is still a tourist trap but those artists have been forced onto other spots, the police moving on anyone who tries to set up their pastels. My mother turned to me ‘do you want to get a henna tattoo?’. ‘No I want a real one’ I stubbornly said in that way teenagers do, avoiding eye contact, every word preparing for a battle. She didn’t say any thing. ‘Can I get one?’ I bounced up excitedly. ‘Well I’d rather you got a tattoo than a facial piercing’ (logic I still to this day do not understand) she returned having already lost a fight we hadn’t yet started. Now the thing about my mum in those days was you had to act quickly on her agreement to things, given a few days she’d have forgotten and deny all knowledge of any promises made.

getting a tattoo

So the very next day I found myself in a tattoo parlour, memorising the year of birth it would take to make me 18 and legal enough to get the artwork done. I stared at all the designs for what seemed like forever. Should I get something patriotic to show my country of birth? Perhaps an English Bulldog (I wasn’t aware this was a racist symbol at the time), ooh how about the cute Tigger from Winnie the Pooh dressed as a devil? Or maybe a Chinese symbol (it was the 90’s after all!) or maybe a dolphin or a butterfly? I settled on a crescent moon and a star on my ankle. Little did I know that I would have a growth spurt at 17 and shoot up two inches causing the tattoo to travel past my ankle and land somewhere on my lower calf. This is exactly why you do not get a tattoo at 15!

Any way, there I was, on the island of my tattoo. An island with a complicated history, having been passed back and forth between the Dorians, the Spartans, Athenians, Romans, Ptolemies (Egyptians), Byzantine Empire and then Ottoman Empire before finally coming back under Greek rule in 1830.
Santorini had once been a caldera (meaning an island which collapses in on itself, usually as a result of a volcanic eruption, forming a ring with the middle section often filling up with magma or water). At some point during the middle part of the second millennium a massive volcanic eruption (probably the largest catastrophic event in recorded history), known as the Minoan eruption took place destroying large sections of the ring – leaving the crescent shape we have today and causing tsunamis. The event was so catastrophic that it is argued to have caused a volcanic winter in China, climate changes in Egypt and of course massive destruction to neighbouring Greek islands.

santorini eruption

On top of this it is believed that a lot of the European flood mythology derives from this event. There are  suggestions that the story of Noah and his ark, the biblical plagues during the Moses stories, the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt (some advocate that rather then crossing the Red sea, they crossed the Reed sea – an area of marshy area in northern Egypt which would have been drained and flooded by a tsunami), along with numerous other stories all stem from this single eruption. Some even believe that Plato’s lost utopia of Atlantis was inspired by Santorni; a superior civilization that eventually falls out of favour with the gods and is submerged into the sea, a story which many have taken to be based on a real city.

atlantis

I stared at the water for a really long time trying to see some magical mer-people but alas, they evaded me!
I wandered the streets, sat in small cafes, searched for wifi, took pictures, watched fat tourists ride donkeys up the cliff from the cruise ships. Sitting on the north west of the island the old town is the perfect place to watch the sunset. I found a spot and waited but more and more couples squeezed in around me, I suddenly started to feel terribly exposed and self conscious, perhaps it wasn’t the best idea to come to such a romantic place alone to get over my problems. Just as soon as that sun hit the water, I jumped on my quad-bike and zoomed back to my hotel. Or at least I tried. I got lost. It got dark. Cars whizzed past me, my lights didn’t reach far and who knew where the next cliff was! Eventually at great expense I logged onto the internet on my phone and Google maps directed me home.

Santorini sunset

After three days of speaking to no one but waiters who would all repeat the same thing ‘just one? table for one? just you?’ and then look at me like I had leprosy as they cleared away the other set of cutlery; I was feeling somewhat low. Travelling alone sucks! I was suppose to be relaxing, having a lovely time in this beautiful place but I just felt lonely. My hostel turned out to be a small hotel run by the lazy eyed Nikos who spoke only enough English to settle the bill. After sunset I’d spend the evening in text conversations with Bank Manager, him making promises to come meet me in Italy, me trying not to fall any more into him. Finally on my second to last night, I pulled up the quad at my hotel and spied a guy around my age on the balcony next to mine ‘oh great, another couple’.

santorini donkeys

I sat on the balcony, he was alone, he offered me wine, he climbed over the balcony wall onto my side. We stared across to the dark hills. He’d been in Australia a year but had been forced to return when his visa ran out, with nowhere to go he moved back in with his parents and took up work with his father. He’d decided to get away for a holiday and at that age where all his mates had married and settled down he too was alone and so had spent his time Greek island hopping – or at least he’d gone to one island, slept in a tent, almost got attacked by a goat and woke up to find his tent had turned into a sauna before quickly hopping over to Santorini and booking into a hotel. Once background stories had been swapped I don’t think I stopped talking for five hours, having been starved of human company, three days worth of words spilled out into the night.

I took him to Oia on the back of my Quad the next day (he’d been too scared to hire one himself), we went to cafe’s together and no longer had to sit alone to the pity of waiters. We were two strangers with little in common but just glad to be with someone else. Having returned Henry the Quad, I left at 3 in the morning the next day wondering how on earth I was going to cope for three weeks alone in Italy.

 santorini house gate