Monday, August 29, 2005

Big Weekend in London

I apologise for the lack of pictures in this post, but the photos taken this weekend are not fit for public consumption :-)
~The Management

After Friday's upset at work I was really glad to be going to London for the weekend. We were staying with a mate of ours from our Big Bad Biking days in SA - last year he was over in Dublin visiting us and now it was our turn to visit. He picked us up from the airport in his taxi, which he then wisely parked for the remainder of the weekend. After a quick supper of KFC (which I have to tell you is TONS better than the stale, soggy variety we are subjected to in Dublin, but still nowhere near as nice as it is in SA) we caught a bus from Hackney into central London. Now, I know these stories about our trips can get a bit long-winded sometimes, but there's just so much to tell and if I don't do it properly it would just turn into a "we went here, we went there" boring old list. So bear with me. You might wanna get comfortable.

Let me start with where we were staying. I was a little apprehensive when we pulled up outside his flat, firstly because we were probably the only white people in sight. It's not a racist thing (I would HATE to be thought of as one) but it was a little unnerving, coming as we do from SA - kind of like landing up in the middle of Hillbrow or something. We followed our mate, Rip (I could tell you the history behind his nickname but I'll leave that for now) down a little alley from the main street, through a grossly overgrown garden up some metal stairs and into the back of a slightly dingy building. I was imagining yellowed, peeling walls, grimy windows and cockroaches to be honest, so was pleasantly surprised when we arrived at the top floor to find ourselves in a newly renovated, neat one bedroomed flat with open-plan kitchen, brand new white carpets and skylights in both lounge and bedroom.
He promptly poured us a cocktail in a pint glass - couldn't tell you what it was because I couldn't even pronounce it, never mind spell it, but it consisted of a Brazilian rum, honey, lemon, sugar and goodness knows what else. (The Brazilian link is his girlfriend, by the way. We'll get to her in a while.)
Well it was very, very sweet. That's all I have to say.

By then we were starting to run a little late but I eventually managed to get us out the flat and on a bus. Yes, this is genuine - I was the only woman there and I was not the reason we were running late. Rip is a faffer of note and has no concept of time or punctuality.

So we arrived in town & ordered a taxi, and while we were waiting we popped into a Polish Vodka bar, filled with academic types all wearing black and white, & had a shot of Sambuca. Then Rip ordered another drink.
By this time it was already 9pm and I was beginning to stress because we'd arranged to meet my sister across town... at 9pm! Eventually the taxi arrived, around about the time my sister was ringing my hubby's phone again to find out where we were, and after a small incident involving hubby's phone flying out of my bag onto the pavement and me scaring the living daylights out of a large, and coincidentally South African, doorman outside a posh hotel by stamping my foot in frustration and throwing a good tantrum, we got into the taxi which took us to the appointed pub - did I mention it is the one run by my cousin, Del?

After a huge apology for being so late and lots of digs from everyone ("everyone" being my sister, Del, and his brother) we were finally almost forgiven, and started drinking. Which is what we continued to do until somewhere around 2am, I think. Yes, I know pubs in the UK close at 11:30. But we were special so we sat at the back with the lights down low and had a great old time - a little family reunion, if you will.
Rip's Brazilian girlfriend, Lau, eventually joined us too after finishing her shift at a restaurant nearby. So when we had completely worn out our welcome (I'm sure Del will think twice about issuing the next invitation, hehe!) we left. I thought we were going home, but it was not to be. I found myself in a smoky club next, which to my relief had already served the last round so we went instead to guzzle a kebab (not the same as a South African kebab, or sosatie - these are Doner Kebabs which are more like what we call Schwarma's.)
We finally got to bed around 4:30am.

Only to be up again at 6am. Aaaargh!!!!!!

But you see, it was the big rugby game between the Bokke and the All Blacks, so we dragged ourselves back into town to an Aussie pub called The Walkabout, which was hopping with people in Springbok and All Black jerseys.
What can I say about the game? From the special Haka to start with it was a really good game, despite the fact that victory was snatched from us right at the end. If we'd had another 5 minutes, who knows..? Anyway, needless to say there was yet more alcohol involved and lots of back-slapping and making friends (the Kiwis were really gracious about the whole thing, saying how much they enjoyed playing the Bokke and South Africans are such nice people etc).
But then we decided that if we were going to be in any shape to go out again that night, we should go home & get some sleep.

After some 5 hours or so of rest (yay!) we once again headed into town, had another shot of Sambuca in the same Polish Vodka bar (after a generous helping of Red Bull) and then headed once again for Notting Hill - this time to the restaurant where Lau works. Lovely place - comfortable leather chairs, heavy wooden tables, intimite setting and great Italian food. My sis met us there as well and we had a nice, easy, amusing evening.
And then the restaurant closed and Lau was finished working and it was time to party seriously again. (I know, I'm a sucker for punishment! I swear I'm NEVER drinking again!!!)

So Lau took us to this club in town, quite a larny joint that she wanted to show us as she knows the people there through where she works.
Well there was I in my black jeans, boots and t-shirt (it's black with a blue & silver "S" for Supergirl on the front) and I have never felt so underdressed so suddenly in my life before. I felt so 80's!!! It was like stepping into a Cosmo magazine! All the women wore shiny, strappy tops, with silky smooth and uber-trendy hairdo's, like clones of Kate Moss or something. Let me explain - Lau is one of those beautiful, vibrant people who would be equally at ease in a pub in the middle of the back-of-beyond as in a club like... well, this one. I'm sure she was a lot more comfortable there than I was anyway. The decor was kind of cave-like, with low, squishy chairs and somehow it reminded me of a sheik's tent.
Oh, and the men were equally trendy - except for one short bloke with glasses in a white shirt & tie who was doing the whole frog-in-a-blender dance.
Now, I don't like going to places where I feel like they're doing me a favour letting me in, to start with... but at £50 for a round of drinks my opinion of the place took a dive in a hurry. Fortunately I wasn't alone in this opinion so after finishing our drinks we fled to a place nearby called Cheers.

This was much more my scene - better music (call me a pleb if you like, but good ol' club or rock is much more my cup of tea) and much more normal looking people. Except for the couple shagging in the corner where they thought nobody could see what they were doing (aren't there laws against that kind of thing?!).
And then it just got weird. There we were, happily dancing away, when this tall dude suddenly rushed over to me and asked me if I was American.
Er, no.
Well, sort of but I didn't want to get into all that so I said no.
Well, it's just that you speak such good English, where are you from?
(I should bloody hope so since it's my home language...) I'm South African, and have you met my husband? (yanking hubby towards me)
Oh don't worry, I'm not hitting on you, relax, he says with a smile & promptly strikes up a conversation about cricket with hubby.
Turns out he was just bored so he came over to chat - besides, he was gay and already involved with someone.
Sorry, I still thought it was weird!

But that's not all, oh no! Next thing I know this really tall blonde girl was dancing in our little group.
"Hi, I'm Angela, and I just started freaking out a bit so my friend told me to come over and dance with you guys."
Well... okay then! The more the merrier.
I then found out that she's an Aussie who's been in London for 5 weeks, and the swarthy chap in the white outfit is her best friend, and the short dark guy (who I'd been keeping an eye on since he was standing a little too close to our handbags for comfort) was her boyfriend's best friend. So where was her boyfriend?
Australia. Of course.
Being her new best friend, when Rip came over & started messing about, she suddenly grabbed me away from him & gave me a, er, hug, for want of a better description. I was very confused but then she said something about "saving me" from this potential pervert... whereupon I had to explain that he was actually a friend of mine.

Fortunately before the evening could get any weirder, 3am arrived and suddenly the music was switched off, the lights were switched on, and there was general mayhem as everyone charged outside to find taxi's home.

I won't go into detail about the emotional farewells that followed, or my frustration at trying to get a taxi, because all that is left to tell is that we slept until midday on Sunday and then, at last, it was time to go home.

We had a great time but omigosh I think it will be a long, long time before I'm up to another weekend like it!

Friday, August 26, 2005

Let Down

Well the unexpected but welcome happy mood that I've been in for the last few weeks was shattered rudely this morning.
I went in to work, sat down & started doing the morning checks, as I've been doing for the past 5 weeks or so. I've been feeling good about myself because I'm slowly but surely mastering the new work that I've been doing.
And then I was reminded what it is like to feel really, really, shitty.
Let me explain.
In the entire company of over 500 employees, there is ONE person who I consider a friend. We don't confide in each other on a personal level at all, but we get along well, share a sense of humour and often gossip confidentially among ourselves about stuff that's going on in the company.
And I suppose this is why my mother warned me about gossiping.

Something I told him, confidentially AND tongue-in-cheek, has apparently been spreading as dangerously distorted fact through the entire department. And if it reaches the ears of one particular person (M), it will really hurt the only person who has really been good to me and helped me in possibly furthering my career. Of course, it reached M, who then confronted me with the distorted 'fact' and I was utterly devastated because the last thing I want to do is hurt this person. Why would I?
All this has served to do is:
a) Destroy any trust M might have in me, and
b) show me once again that trusting anyone will only lead to disappointment somewhere down the line when I am once again betrayed.

Yes, I am feeling very sorry for myself right now. I sobbed for 10 minutes in the loo, and then went for a long walk to try & get rid of the evidence of my tears. I managed to compose myself by turning the hurt into anger.
What hurts the most is that I feel I've come such a long way in becoming happier in myself, and have been feeling proud of myself for actually starting to interact with people again after... well never mind the details... but in one foul swoop some careless words have sent me plummeting back into a place where the temptation to just clam up and not say anything to anyone about anything, no matter how mundane; to just stop talking to everyone completely, is almost overwhelming.
I don't want to do that. It's not healthy.
And I am pissed off as hell about it.

Anyway, on that note, fortunately I am home now, having taken the afternoon off because we're going to visit friends in London this weekend.
So have a good weekend people.
I hope your day is going better than mine.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

All aboard!

Y'know what one of the best things about Blogging is? The amount of times I have seen, in black and white, on the Internet, for all the world to see, statements such as, "I agree with Terri", in response to something I have said. I love being right, hehe! I mean, I know that I am always right, it is just seldom that other people admit it willingly.
Right, so, I'll just swap my tongue to the other cheek quickly.

Now, having said all that I also think I may be losing my mind [Insert witty comments here... there ya go, feel better now? Can I continue?]

I seem to have a block in my brain that sometimes prevents me from being able to think. I desperately try & remember something and it's just blank, it won't come out. This is a relatively new experience for me and I find it extremely disturbing. Especially at the moment, at work, when I'm trying to learn as much as I can in my 'temporary' new position, because basically I am trying to change my career. So you see, it's actually quite important that my brain is working right now. But every now & then it just seems to grind to a halt. Th-th-th-th-that's all folks! I get this blank, glazed look, and people are talking to me but I can't hear what they're saying. Fortunately they all think I have a problem still with understanding the Irish accent, so I'm forgiven for not hearing them the first time around. Which doesn't really let me off the hook when they repeat themselves and I'm still clueless.
So I just smile pleasantly and hope they weren't expecting an insightful answer. An accepting nod of the head in the right place also seems to get me out of some sticky situations, but occasionally it comes back to bite me in the ass when someone will mention something, and I'll sort of go, "Huh?"
Then they look at me as if to say, "Where have you been, Mars?"

This might be closer to the truth than they imagine, hehe.
Not that I've actually been to Mars, of course - in fact I've never physically left Earth's atmosphere (I know, it's a shock) - but I do spend an awful lot of time in what my hubby calls "TerriLand". It's a wonderful place, a place where my mind goes when it's tired of reality. Which, frankly, is quite often.

I kind of drift off and allow things to kind of float through my mind at will, often with confusing results. By that I mean I will be in conversation with someone about something, and they'll carry on talking (or not, as the case may be), and my mind will go on from that topic and just follow whatever linked thoughts happen to pass by, until eventually the next thing I say will have absolutely nothing to do with what we were talking about. When I realised this was causing hubby to think I was completely insane, I became concerned that he might come at me with one of those comfy white jackets with the really long sleeves, so I actually started working backwards through my chain of thoughts, out loud, so he could see where my latest one had come from. He understands now and I'm pleased to report that the white coat is on ice for the moment.
You see, it all makes sense in my head! Why can't the rest of the world keep up?

And that's another thing I love about Blogging: I have come to realise that I AM NOT ALONE. It turns out there are dozens, possibly hundreds of people of similar disposition out there, with busy heads filled with deep thoughts and nonsense, and this is just such a great way of airing one's head, don'tcha think? Ha ha, does that make us air-heads? [Sorry, sometimes my corny-ness overwhelms me!]

sigh! I think in my next life I definitely want to come back as a sock. Aha! Gotcha there, don't I?! You're just dying to know how I went from air-heads to socks, aren't you?! Well okay then: I was thinking about the whole airing-my-head thing, and it made me think about being out in the open, and where better to be for that than on a desert island? Which reminded me of a comment I left on Kyknoord's Blog earlier this week, where he told us that according to an advert currently running on SA television, all those missing socks apparently end up on a desert island somewhere having a whale of a time.

So I repeat: I want to come back as a sock.
Just not a pink one. I hate pink. I know - you'd never guess considering the template I chose for my blog, eh? It irks me only occasionally, but it is actually quite tasteful, even if it IS pink. Actually I chose it 'cos of the picture/banner thing across the top - it kind of reminds me of some of the stuff I've seen in European cities during my travels, and since I write a lot about my travelling... well you get the idea. Starting to get the hang of my train-of-thought thing yet?

Speaking of trains-of-thought [you're gonna love this...] I had a thought on the train on the way home [Yes, I know it's lame, but I was compelled to do it!] but it seems to have disappeared again although doubtless it will hit me again at a later stage like a [er, dare I say it?] express train. [Ok, I'll stop with the locomotive references now.]
Which brings me back to my first (or was it my second?) thought earlier and that is that I fear my mind is departing in pieces.
Although some would say it's been coming for a while now.
Or perhaps it was never really all there in the first place.
Ooh, I feel a heavy thinking session coming on.... whooosh..... nope, there it goes - didn't even stop at the station. [That's the last one, I promise!]

Yes people, I'm afraid this sort of stuff does go on inside my head pretty much all the time. Scary, huh? Fortunately it only occasionally falls out of my mouth, although I do have a tendency to think out loud sometimes, when I am particularly deep in thought. Whenever I sit next to a new person at work I find they'll often say, "Did you say something?" and I'll have to say, "Er, no, sorry, just talking to myself." After a while they get used to it and just ignore it, so it will get to a point where I will have to physically tap them or call their name when I want to speak to them, otherwise I just become background noise.
[Eesh, talk about opening yourself up to witty sarcasm!]

So, like, whatever, enjoy my little insane ramblings or move on. The choice is yours. Me, I'll just retire back to TerriLand now for a while. Maybe I'll see you there sometime...

Monday, August 22, 2005

Weekend with Friends

And so it's Monday again. Did everyone have a good weekend? I did. Our houseguests left yesterday morning at the crack of dawn, while I was still snoring. We really made the most of our time with our old friends from PE, taking them out pubbing in Temple Bar on Friday night, and to see Riverdance on Saturday night.

Temple Bar is an amazing place. It consists of a few blocks of ancient cobbled brick streets in Dublin's city centre, just South of the river. On Friday and Saturday nights you can be guaranteed of a great night out no matter what the weather. It consists of probably 90% pubs and clubs, with a few shops in between that are open during the day. But it is at night that the place truly comes alive, brightly lit from streetlights and neon signs and just general decoration, with people and music spilling out of the pubs and into the crowded streets.

Temple Bar at night

Visitors to Dublin inevitibly end up spending at least one evening in Temple Bar, and it is a favourite destination for travelling Hen parties, as confirmed by the number of groups of girls waltzing around in matching outfits or bunny ears, mostly British, and mostly smashed. The noise both inside the pubs and outside in the street is phenomenal - people from all over the world joining together in one massive continuous street party, everyone getting along with everyone else and making friends at every stop.
A young American guy was kind enough to take a photograph of the four of us (which I'm NOT posting because there's a good chance my mother will see this!); we made friends with two Italian guys, from Rome, because one of them was wearing a Springbok rugby jersey (good choice this weekend!) and spent a good 15 minutes laughing our asses off with an African dude who was dressed in a 'traditional' outfit to make some money on the streets. He told us he walked all the way from Kenya to Dublin in 3 days and he was a great warrior... and then we told him we were South African and he almost laughed his head off cos he knew he'd been bust! But hey, the Irish will believe anything an African says (go figure!) and he seemed to be making a good enough living anyway.

The Great Masai Warrior with D & Big D

It was a good pub crawl, all in all, which we ended in a pub called Oliver St John Gogherty's, which was crammed with foreigners singing along to favourites like "American Pie", watching the desperate singles playing tonsil-tennis like mad. Hubby could no longer contain himself and ended up dancing with us gals and Big D looked on in amazement at the chaotic revelry of Temple Bar on a Saturday night.
It is courtesy of Big D, by the way, that I have these photos to show you.

In contrast, Saturday night was an evening of quiet culture. Okay, maybe not quiet, since a large part of the Riverdance show consists of lots of dancers in tap shoes. Fortunately our hangovers had subsided somewhat by then so we all enjoyed the show immensely - even the guys. There's an awful lot of talent in there and you can't help but be moved by the haunting Irish music.


Best of the weekend, of course, was watching the Boks beat the Aussies - woo hoo!!! I've been looking all over for an Aussie to rag today, but they all seem to have disappeared.

And finally, I have to leave you with an image that disproves my theory that Irish sunsets are boring. This was taken by Bex last week when the two of us went for a walk along the Estuary here in Malahide.

Sunset over Malahide Estuary - Thanx Bex!

So I can't take credit for any of the photos this week, unfortunately, but I figured all this writing needed some brightening up.

Friday, August 19, 2005

A Pointless Post

Well aren't I just the worst blogger in history? I feel quite guilty 'bout the lack of new postings - haven't had the time to make new ones at work due to actually working (and still enjoying the experience of using my brain for a change in my new job)... and my evenings have been full this week cos we have friends visiting from Jersey. That's Jersey island, one of the Channel Islands between England & France, not Jersey in the USA, in case u were wondering.
They're from my hometown too and left SA shortly after we did.
I must say I have REALLY enjoyed having good friends around this week - does wonders to alleviate the homesickness that's been plaguing me lately.

There's no actual point to this post, I just feel chatty and I want to tell the world how much happier I am at work these days. I was approached 4 weeks ago and given this opportunity to work in the DBA (database administration) team for a month while someone was on leave. Well I am loving it! And the best part is, it looks like the month will be extended so I'm learning all this new stuff and it's challenging and interesting (well, to me it is!) and believe it or not I think I may even be becoming useful here, all of which really makes me feel good.
Yes, I enjoy using my brain and I like to be constructive at work. Does that make me a nerd? Tough!

It's just so strange to be happy at work. I didn't realise how miserable I was here before. Boredom is a terribly destructive thing, isn't it? Although it did leave me more time to blog at leisure, hehe!
Seriously, I feel like I'm doing real, proper IT stuff now, not just plugging in PC's and hand-holding techno-eejits!
I'm like one of those people you see on TV - typing at 100mph, using a black screen with white terminal font - no more point-and-click, oh no sirree! Makes me look much cleverer!

Oh dear, I think I've had too much coffee today. Time to switch to decaf else I'll be bouncing off the ceiling soon. Not to be confused with dancing on the ceiling, of course, which I'm much better at.

And now I'm going to try post this thing before it degenerates into completely insane rambling, and/or the day overtakes me again. I will try make a less caffeine-induced & more lucid post soon. Ok maybe lucid is the wrong word - I'm seldom that. Oh dear there's that rambling thing again..... byeeeeeee ........!

Monday, August 15, 2005

Scary - who me?

I'm trying to work out where my reputation as a scary bad-ass South African chick comes from. My good friend Undr was kind enough to devote an entire blog posting to my question about romance, but for some reason he appeared to be under the impression that if he didn't answer my question I'd hunt him down and inflict grievous bodily harm on him. (The words "ballistic" and "South African Irish beating" were used).

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not offended - in fact I laughed my ass off at his post!
But it got me wondering what I might have said or done (although technically he doesn't know me from Eve & we've never actually met) to have given him this idea about me.
'Cos you see, he's not the only one - I have gained this reputation at work, too.

Which I find very strange, because in fact I can't stand confrontation. I avoid it at all costs. I'm always the one to hold my tongue in order to keep the peace.
Except maybe when I have PMS and then these bitch-slap comments just hurtle out of my mouth with the speed of light, completely bypassing the censorship lobe in my brain. But that's only like, a couple of days a month..!?!

Most of the time I'm quite timid, standing politely quietly waiting for people to finish conversations & phone calls before interrupting, and smiling shyly at people when they greet me. And yet somehow I've earned a reputation as One To Be Afraid Of.
I was talking to a colleague about work the other day and someone wanted to catch his attention for an urgent problem. I jokingly said something to the effect of, "Go away, I have his attention now," but instead of getting a chuckle and a witty response, the person in question fled!
I'm starting to become a little paranoid because that's not the first time I've come across this sort of behaviour.

In fairness, the people who know me a little better know not to take anything I say too seriously so that's not the problem at all. And I must admit I find it quite amusing to see people afraid of li'l ol' me.

Perhaps this phenomenon is linked to another characteristic of mine: I have an extremely expressive face. I give new meaning to the term, "Wearing your heart on your sleeve". Sadly for me, I only discovered this about myself the day I first watched my wedding video, and then it was a case of, "OMG! You can see EXACTLY what is going through my mind ALL the TIME!!"
On the plus side, at least hubby can't have been in any doubt about who he was marrying! But this has landed me in all sorts of embarrassing situations. For example, at work, when someone is talking to me and all I can think of is, "What an idiot!" ... Can they see this in my expression? Because if so, maybe that explains my reputation.
I also have a really effective "Drop dead" look, which I fear occasionally has be known cross my face before I've had a chance to compose myself with a neutral expression.
The whole thing is mildly disturbing but I'm not too concerned because the people who count - the people I've allowed to get to know me of - know me well enough to just accept this about me. Because although I can become VERY irate extremely quickly, it normally passes just as quickly, and it is now commonly accepted that when I blow off steam, I do it a little more flambouyantly than most people do. So mostly they just ignore it which suits us all just fine.

Or maybe the reason I have this reputation is photo's like this one, which was taken on our holiday in SA earlier this year.

Yes, it's me having fun with a black powder rifle for the first time. I showed it to a select few friends at work and I suspect the legend grew from there. ("Watch that mad South African bird - she knows how to handle a gun!")

Newsflash, people: Just cos I know how to shoot (and am able to do it pretty well, too, I might add) it doesn't mean I am an aggressive person and I probably won't exercise my skills by taking pot-shots at you just cos you asked me a stupid question. (Unless I have PMS and am low on chocolate at the time but even then, it would have to be a really stupid question!)

Ah, I think I have just had an epiphany... perhaps it is comments like the one above that have earned me my scary reputation..?

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Of holidays and romance

So we've been back from our holiday for a whole week now and I'm now firmly back in the grip of day to day living in Dublin. O yay.
I tried really hard not to let that blissful glow brought on by a week in the Greek Isles slip away, but as they say, all good things come to an end. I fought bravely though, annoying my colleagues with little stories and anecdotes (did I mention how hot & sunny it was?) the whole week. I even subjected a couple of them to my 35mm photographs which I brought in to work one day, haha!
I took almost 100 photographs - and only 2 were from Crete; the rest were all taken on our 2-day excursion on Santorini (What can I say? It's a really photogenic place!). That's excluding the 147 digital pics. Overkill? you might ask. Well not really - the logic is that you take lots of photos so you can be sure that amongst them there just must be a few good ones. It's the law of averages. Of course the logical argument is pretty much nullified because in reality I can't bear to throw away any photographs, so most of them went into the album anyway. But that's me - I never do anything in half-measures. An all-or-nothing kind of girl... it's part of my charm ;-)
Bad luck for the suckers who felt obliged to take a look at my holiday snaps, tee hee!

It was hubby's birthday yesterday so I took him out to dinner at our favourite restaurant which, conveniently, is only about a 5 minute walk from where we live in the village. Coincidentally, it is a Greek restaurant, so we were quite excited about recapturing some of the magic from our holiday. Only problem is this is Ireland, not Greece. The background music did its thing to set the atmosphere, and we had a table by the window... but where was the sea? Our view was of a building site! The tzatziki was nice, but seemed to me to be a watered down version of the real thing. I think this is cos the Irish appear to have a very mild palate, so all the food is milder in this country. Less garlic in the tzatziki, curries that don't burn (in Indian restaurants, I mean, you don't see many curries on the menu in Greek restaurants!). And you could order any kind of coffee after your meal - except Greek coffee.
But the dessert was just gorgeous and the waiter had a genuine accent (I'm a sucker for that Greek accent!) and we enjoyed our meal and our wine and were nicely sauced by the time we got home. Whereupon we enjoyed one or two (or three or four?) gentle (?!) whiskeys while listening to our favourite music.
A quietly romantic evening, if not terribly imaginitive on my part. No, I'm afraid hubby is the one with the romantic imagination. Don't get me wrong - I LOVE romance and I'm a real romantic at heart, I just don't know how to DO romance. He does romance - I do funny. I'm the family clown, and it's hard to be romantic and funny at the same time. Besides - the man gave me the most beautiful sunset on earth last week... that's a difficult one to top on the romance scales!
Plus, what kind of thing would be considered romantic by a guy who at this very moment is sitting watching a Korean war movie (in Korean, with subtitles!)?

Seriously, help me out here. Guys, what are some of the romantic things your girls have done for you? Personally, I love candlelight dinners, flowers and sunset walks along the beach, but I suspect that men have a different view of what's romantic to what us girls have.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Greek Isle bliss

Sunset in Gouves, Crete

Be warned! What you are about to read is a very long blog, so you may as well grab a cup of coffee and get comfortable, because you're about to hear all about our week in the Greek Islands, which is now officially my favourite place in the world for holidays.

We left a cold, miserable, rainy Dublin last Saturday and flew directly to Crete, landing at around 10:30pm to find it was 28 degrees outside - woo hoo!!! It was a charter flight full of package-holiday-makers, the foulest kind of traveller on the planet. Fake tans, white track-suits and convict-style haircuts surrounded us on the 'plane, with Dublin accents so thick you'd need a broadsword to cut them. Bellies stuck out between tank-tops and tiny skirts and you could have opened a shop with the amount of 'Burberry' caps around. But when you're doing things on the cheap, you get what you pay for. Fortunately Lyda Studios, the resort we were staying in, was actually really nice and there were 3 swimming pools to choose from so we were able to avoid the worst of the yobs (the term used to describe the culture of young, drunken, rowdy louts) once we had checked in, and get on with enjoying our holiday.
Yes, I know I sound like a terrible snob. Tough. These dregs of society - the unwashed masses - have that effect on me. Live with it!

Since Crete is 2 hours ahead of Ireland we were well ready for supper by the time we'd checked in so we headed straight to The Snack Bar - the restaurant contained in the apartment complex. It overlooked one of the swimming pools and was like a big patio covered in a canvas awning, with bougainvillea climbing the wooden support posts and beams, small square tables and rattan chairs dotting the terracotta tiled floor. We were treated to live entertainment while we ate our big, juicy burgers: it was Karaoke night. The stars of the show were a 15-year-old rapper, his tone-deaf 9-year old brother and an elderly woman with a reasonable voice that she wrecked by singing the most mournful Irish tunes she could find, at a snail's pace.
But who am I to judge? (More about that later...) Everyone was having a grand old time anyway!

View from the Snack Bar

Sunday morning dawned bright and hot so we spent the morning lying on sun loungers next to the pool, under the shade of a canvas umbrella. I have had enough sunburn in my life, thanks, and would rather return from holidays with no tan at all than burnt to a crisp and looking like a lobster with half its shell missing.
In the afternoon we decided to take a half-hour nap, which lasted for 2 hours, after which we decided it was time to do a bit of exploring. So we set out, armed with a hand-drawn map courtesy of the travel rep, in the general direction of the sea. Although the shadows were already lengthening, it was still stifling hot and dusty, lending an orange glow to everything. We took a wrong turn (my fault - my usually infallible sense of direction must still have been sleeping) but eventually fought our way through the clouds of miggies (gnats, for those of you who don't speak Afrikaans) to arrive at the promenade that runs the length of the sea-front in Gouves.
Our timing was perfect and we perched on some rocks jutting out into the ocean to watch the sunset. As the orange fireball slipped quickly and silently into the sea and was snuffed out in the dark blue water on the horizon, its blazing pathway stretching out over the white-tipped waves in front of us grew shorter and the shadows grew longer until we were enveloped in twilight, the pink and orange glow tingeing the edge of the world gradually fading and making it possible for the evening’s first stars to peek through and twinkle in the faded blue sky. We sat for a while, enjoying the sound of the waves colliding lazily with the rocks, and the smell of the ocean carried on a cool, energizing sea breeze, and the peace and tranquility of the moment.


Eventually the need for food drove us back to the promenade and we ate an incredibly romantic dinner at the Paradise Restaurant, a thatched wooden deck supported by stilts, beneath which we could hear the small waves rolling gently in and rattling the pebbled beach as they retreated. Dinner was delicious, accompanied by a bottle of Rosé wine, Greek music playing softly in the background and the smell of the ocean carried on the slight breeze. At one point a piano-accordian player put in an appearance, and obliged a Dutch couple by playing "Tulips from Amsterdam", and an Australian couple with his rendition of "Waltzing Matilda". When he came to our table and found out we were South African, he promptly ran away because he didn't know any South African tunes. (David Kramer would have been devastated, I'm sure!)
Whereupon the owner of the restaurant took it upon himself to make us feel properly welcome, by producing some drinks on the house.

Our table at Paradise Restaurant

But not any old drinks, oh no. This was a special Cretan (there ya go Kyknoord, they're Cretans, not Cretins!) drink called Haraki - not unlike Tequila in appearance and, indeed, taste. It was poured from a clear glass decanter just big enough for 4 tots, and we were issued strict instructions to drink it slowly. As if there were any other way! As the stuff worked its magic, our grimaces faded and our smiles broadened and soon we were having a really good laugh about, well, everything really.

We followed the Haraki with a nightcap of Baileys and paid the bill - leaving a tip, of course, which provoked another round of Haraki on the house. Eesh!
Eventually we managed to leave and walked (swerved) back along the promenade. It was such a perfect evening, the stars twinkling brightly in the pitch-black sky, the sound of the inky water of the sea in our ears and warmth all around, that we stopped for a nice romantic smooch under one of the pretty lamps lining the path... prompting a collective "Aaah..!" and a round of applause from the diners in a restaurant across the road that we hadn't noticed.
Cheesy, but true!

But our evening didn't end when we reached the apartments. It was a long walk, after all, so we opted for another nightcap, perched on wooden stools at the bar in the Snack Bar. We made friends with Nikolas, the barman (who was kind enough to put a sparkler in my bottle of Coke), and an Irish couple called Eric and Ashling, and soon we were all getting along famously. We introduced them to that wonderful South African shot, the Springbok, and in return we all drank Irish Flags (Crème de menthe, Baileys and brandy) and then ended the evening with a round of Sambuca at about 3am.
Needless to say, I slept like a log!

On Monday we had breakfast, a swim, and then went back to bed.
Our second attempt at the day started around mid-afternoon, when we dragged our lazy asses out of bed and walked what felt like many kilometers into the town center. Our mission was to book tickets on a ferry to Santorini, an island about 70km North of Crete. The local lady at the travel agency sold us a 2-day tour, leaving Wednesday and returning on Thursday. This done, and our thirst quenched with a Coke in one of the many bars, I suddenly realised we were in the middle of the main shopping area of Gouves. Yes please!!! The prices were so reasonable I didn't even get too much resistance from my ever-suffering husband, and it was 7pm by the time we returned, laden with parcels, feet blistered from my new shoes (which are really pretty!), to the apartments.
We had a quiet dinner at the Snack Bar, me looking gorgeous (of course) in one of my new sundresses, and beginning to sport a bit of a tan. Dodging Nikolas and Eric and Ashling (and the pretty cat who was stalking our food from behind our chairs), we turned in early.

On Tuesday we were feeling the need for adventure, so we hired a moped for the day. Helmets are compulsory on Crete, but the moped-hire guy looked at us like we were insane when we asked for two. He gave one to Dave, but told me that I didn't really need one and besides, it would mess up my hair. Priorities, hey?!

Our wheels for the day - love the helmet!

So we set off, D wearing a shiny helmet that resembled a WW2 relic, me holding onto him with one hand, the other ensuring my straw hat didn't blow off. I felt like something in a Bogart movie! It was only a 45-minute drive to the town of Agios Nikolaos on the east coast of Crete but we had to stop halfway in Malia to get out of the heat for a while and top up on liquid before we dehydrated.

The first thing we did in Agios Nikolaos was go for a swim in the sea to cool off, then we lingered over our lunch in an outdoors fast-food restaurant and eventually walked up a winding street to see what was there, following the signs to the Town Centre.

Café in Agios Nikolaos

There we found a beautiful little lake, in the middle of the town, a big rocky hole filled with cool, dark water. After a little rest there in the shade, we went back to our moped and took a drive along the coastal road, past the port busy with ferries and fishing boats, and the pretty little town, and retraced our route through the big, rocky mountains to Gouves.

Dinner in the Snack Bar that night was a BBQ Buffet - a feast of fresh, juicy salads and succulent lamb chops, chicken wings and kebabs, followed by desserts as sweet as only the Greeks produce. Thus fortified, we bravely perched on the barstools with our friend Nikolas the barman again. Whereupon I was ganged up on and ambushed. I had forgotten that in my Haraki-induced haze the other night, I had mentioned that I had never done Karaoke before. Nikolas had been sober, and had not forgotten... and tonight was Karaoke again. When I looked again the list of songs was in front of me and my traitorous husband was sitting with pen and paper poised. The next thing I knew my name was being called, so after a ginormous swig of Gin & Tonic, I found myself singing "California Dreaming" for all I was worth in front of a room full of strangers. Not bad for someone who hates being the focus of attention! Nonetheless, I think I carried it off okay and I even got an enthusiastic round of applause when I was done. When I got back to my seat I could barely stand I was shaking so much, and found that Eric and Ashling had arrived during my 'performance'. A little while later, Ashling and I took the stage together for what was, by all accounts, a brilliant rendition of Madonna's "True Blue". This time I was actually able to enjoy myself, my nerves having been sufficiently calmed by a healthy dose of G&T.
So that was it, my 15 minutes of fame. We fell asleep to the sound of a chorus of voices doing the YMCA, wafting in through the open window (along with the mosquitos!).

Wednesday arrived at last and we saw the sunrise from the air-conditioned coach that took us to the port at Heraklion, about 25 minutes away. There we boarded a big red ferry for the 2-hour voyage to the volcanic islands of Santorini.
I don't know what I was expecting, but that wasn't it. It was even better. Dave had been wanting to take me there for as long as I've known him, having been there once before, in his youth (hahahahaha!).
We emerged into the sunshine along with hundreds of other confused tourists, feeling dwarfed by the high, steep rocky cliffs that towered over the port of Athinios.

Disembarking from the ferry at Athinios, Santorini

Dozens of locals were urging us to come and stay at their hotels, but we were already booked to go somewhere. Trouble was, we couldn't find out where, so when a man told us in English that the vouchers in our hands indicated that we would be staying with him, we hopped into his minibus along with a handful of other confused people and set off up the steep road that zig-zagged up the mountainside.

His hotel, called Maistro Village, was just outside the main town of Fira. Don't be misled when I say 'Just outside' - Santorini is really small, with a permanent population of around 12,500 people. After settling into the hotel we set out (once again in the midday sun!) to Fira on foot.

The town is almost indescribably beautiful. Whitewashed walls and narrow paved streets lined with shops selling almost everything, all perched on the edge of the rocky brown cliffs. Restaurants and hotels cascade down the edges in tiers, providing the most magnificent view over the volcano and surrounding islands. In order to visit the volcano we had to get down to the Old Port at Fira, which could be reached either on foot down lots and lots of stairs, or a 2-minute ride in a funicular. We chose the cable-car. Once again at sea level, we sat in the shade of a café and waited for our ride, which turned out to be a beautiful wooden boat of the tallship variety. While we were waiting we met up with another Irish couple, Kieran and Ashling, who were staying in the same hotel as us and who also took the boat trip. After a while our ship arrived, skirting the huge passenger liners that were anchored in the sparkling blue sea not far off. We were then ferried across the not-so-very-pond-like water to where two similar ships were already anchored in a small bay at the volcano, and we were told, "There's the path, start walking."

So we walked up the hot, dusty, rocky volcano, the landscape resembling something out of a science fiction movie. And we walked, and climbed, and panted, and looked into the big craters from whence fire and brimstone had once erupted. Hm, very interesting - are we there yet?! I'm sad to say I never reached the top. About 30 metres before the summit I was overcome with nausea and dizziness from the heat, and all I could do was stand on a crest where the wind would blow on the water I dripped over my head to try and cool off. Ashling had the same problem so we sent our menfolk to bravely soldier on to the top. We almost got there but it was just too much - according to Dave's clever watch it was 42.6 degrees outside just then. Considering this, I didn't feel too bad at having to stop.

View of Fira & the Grand Princess cruise liner from the volcano

Fortunately, by the time we reached the ships again we were feeling much perkier and the cool of the waves splashing us once we were on the move again soon had me feeling quite normal. From there, we sailed to the smaller island behind the volcano, where the ships dropped anchor offshore so we could dive off the side (just like in the movies!) into the bright blue water of the Aegean Sea to cool off. We swam to shore and splashed around in he warm sulphur springs there for a while before returning to the ship, which then completed the circumnavigation of the volcano and returned us to the Old Port at Fira, where we enjoyed a late lunch at a picturesque restaurant before once again opting for the cable-car ride to take us back to the town at the top of the cliffs. We could have ridden donkeys up the stairs, but they smelled really bad! At the top we parted company with our new friends, and found a restaurant high up on the hillside where we sat down with an enormous beer shandy to watch the spectacle of sunset on Santorini.

Santorini in all its glory!

"Imagine a place where every day the sunset is a major event." These are the words of my husband, and his gift to me was just that. (Go on, say it, "Aaah!")
We sat in the shade overlooking the most magnificent view of the islands and the volcano and the sea, and the town of Fira perched on the cliffs, the whitewashed walls turning a delicate shade of peach as the sun sank slowly in the sky. The restaurant had one employee whose only job, it seemed, was to choreograph the sunset. As the light began to change, he issued orders to his underlings to raise the canvas awnings. Beautiful, mystical music began to play and he bustled around making sure that everyone had drinks and was able to see the phenomenon that was the sunset.
I'll stop waxing lyrical now, and just tell you it was one of the most inspiring experiences of my life, and when it was over and I'd taken as many photographs as I could (they haven't been developed yet but you can see what was captured by the digital camera) I just sat for a while, letting the magical quality of Santorini wash over me.

Sunset from Zafora restaurant in Fira

We then strolled slowly back through the narrow streets of the town, now brightly lit, back to the hotel, where we washed away the heat of the day and then sat by the pool drinking G&T (what else?!), enjoying the company of Nikkos, the owner of Maistros Village.

On Thursday we were taken on a complete tour of Santorin in an air-conditioned coach. This was like heaven, as the heatwave that engulfed the region was still raging. We crossed the dry, dusty landscape to the tourist resort of Kamari, on the east coast. There we swam in the cool, crystal clear water of the sea - so clear we could see our feet on the rocky bottom - and so rocky that when you hired the sun loungers in the shade of thatched (well, palm-fronded then) umbrellas you were issued with a free pair of "sea shoses" to put on your feet so you didn't hurt them on the pebbles of the beach or slip on your ass once in the water. That left us an hour to enjoy a leisurely lunch in a beautiful seafood restaurant before boarding the coach, which then took us to the local wine museum. After a quick look around the museum, located underground in a series of connected cellars, we had a mini wine-tasting. The wine was a speciality of Santorini, made from white grapes but coloured red from the oak barrels in which it was stored after the grapes are dried in the sun. It tasted a lot like Old Brown Sherry (a South African kind of fortified wine, almost like Port).

From there we drove all the way to the north of the island (it took almost an hour) to the town of Oia, which is even more beautiful than Fira, if it's possible. This is the place most often shown in brochures and postcards of Santorini, with geometric white walls and blue window-sills, shutters, doors and roofs, overlooking the other islands in the caldera.

The town of Oia

After wandering around this gorgeous place for a while, we were back on the coach to visit our final stop, the town of Pyrgos which is the highest town on the island. We had a light supper there and watched the sunset from a park bench, before being taken back to Athinios port to catch the ferry back to Crete.

By Friday we were ready for a nice quiet day, so we spent it lounging by the poolside, reading our books. For the final dinner of our holiday we returned to the Paradise Restaurant, since we had had such a good time there on Monday. We weren't disappointed, but this time we got involved in a great conversaton with Dimitrios, the owner, who plied us with even more Haraki. This time it was too much and by the time we got back to the apartment it was all I could do to just fall into bed.

Saturday was our last day, so we had to check out early. We spent the afternoon in a bar in town, watching most of the rugby game between the Springboks and the All Blacks, which went a long way to putting us both in a very good mood since the Bokke were well in the lead by the time we had to leave to catch our bus to the airport.

Not even the rowdy company we were in for our return journey, nor the long queues in the airport, could dampen the magical mood that stayed with me from a fantastic holiday in the Greek Isles.