Music has the amazing ability of conjuring up memories; It instantly sends you back to a particular time and place. If I ever hear the song ‘Hotel California’ by the eagles again, I will instantly be transported back to our first summer in Greece. It will forever remind me of the little dilapidated apartment that we spent this summer living in. The evenings were hot and stuffy. Live music from the hotel close-by blared in the background, and the air was filled with the clatter of cutlery and laughter. I’ll get back to the pop covers in a minute. First let me fill you in a bit.
The beginning of our first summer in Greece…
Let me cast your mind back. It was April. The battle between Winter and Spring was losing it’s strength, and the olive groves were carpeted in vibrant yellow flowers. These details aren’t necessary, but I just thought you might like to know.
It was on such a day, that we had a panic attack when we realised how little the jobs pay out here. As we sat outside sipping camomile tea to calm ourselves, we jotted down numbers, and scribbled them back out. We were prepared for low wages, but there’s low and there’s €2.50 per hour. As we calculated what we need to earn to survive, it became apparent that we were never going to make it.
After an hour of working at the little hotel, it was disheartening to know that all I had earned was the equivalent of a loaf of bread and half a packet of crisps. Ok that’s very specific, but it’s true. In case you’re wondering, Mr SN probably ate the other half of the crisps. He’s addicted to them and there’s never half a packet left. There’s either a whole packet, or no packet. It’s one of the laws of the universe.
Anyway, we weren’t earning enough to keep ourselves afloat, or to satisfy crisp addictions. Our ‘dream life’ felt like an imminent thunderstorm; emotions swirled, and gusts of uncertainty swept past us. It was the one (and only) moment where we actually wanted to go back home. We decisively rang my parents and told them that “we’ve had enough; we’re coming home.” I don’t think they really believed us, but they played the ‘concerned parent part’ very authentically whilst we painted the gloomy forecast.
“we’ve had enough; we’re coming home.”
We spent a whole weekend trying to work out what to do, but neither of us had any good ideas. We kept pacing around deep in thought. Occasionally we found a solution, before dismissing it for one reason or another. There must be a way, we kept telling each other. How do other people survive and live here? It turns out that most foreigners are retired and have an income from a pension or rented property. We aren’t retired and we don’t have an income from the UK… but I guess that’s why your interested in out story, isn’t it? We’re the crazy couple who moved to Greece in our 20’s and 30’s whilst people warned us of the risks and worried on our behalf.
On the other hand, the Greek people were managing to survive (just) and make ends meet. On further investigation, it turns out that Greek families are the backbone of society. Their close knit families stick by each other and it’s not uncommon for several generations to all live together. Grandparents, children and grandchildren all rally around to support each other, both financially and emotionally. You know the scene. It’s a warm evening, dinner is being served on the terrace by yia-yia, (grandma) whilst the oldest daughter fetches the Greek salad. The men chat about the weather and the progression of the olive trees whilst the children chase each other about and ignore the reprimands of the adults. Guess what? This scene is actually real…This is a typical summer evening here. They’ve got each others backs. They are resilient and strong.
The solution to our problems…
One day, we stumbled across the idea of trying to rent our own house out for extra money. It was nearing completion after spending the winter renovating it, and it would give us the much needed money that we were short of. The more we discussed it, the more we reluctantly realised that it was our only option. It was upsetting, but necessary. Over the coming weeks, we completed the remaining jobs, took pictures and advertised it as a holiday rental. Now we had to find a solution to our impending homelessness. We needed something very cheap and affordable, that wouldn’t eat into our reserves.
Life has a way of presenting the answers. When we asked our Greek friend, she said that she had an old apartment which she would happily let us use. We arranged to meet her and view it; things were working out. The apartment was very tiny and run down, but it was cute in a dilapidated/ peeling paint kind-of-way. The location was very convenient for my job; I could walk there within two minutes. She was unsure if it was fit for us to live in, and she wouldn’t hear of accepting any money as rent.
Moving out of the villa…
Having lived in a caravan without electricity or running water for a year, this little apartment felt like luxury. Ok, the flush on the toilet was broken, and yes, there was no cooker, but you can’t have everything can you? We gratefully accepted her kind offer, and matter of factly began removing all of our personal possessions from the villa. Before long, we moved down to the little fishing village where we were to soon live.
We methodically removed our style and personality from the villa, and tried to create a neutral holiday home feel to the place. The essentials (bikini, sunglasses, my favourite houseplant etc) were packed and moved to our new abode. Anything deemed unnecessary for the summer was stored in the workshop at the villa. After the last bits and pieces were sorted through, we locked the workshop door and pretended not to see the chaos within.
Life had thrown us a curve ball. We never expected to be spending our first summer in Greece living elsewhere. But as always, we had found a way of making it work, even if that did mean having to put your hand into the cistern to flush the toilet.
Settling in to the summer season…
Our first summer in Greece lay before us like a blank sheet of paper, just waiting for the story to be written. We settled into a routine and maximised the close vicinity of the sea…see I told you that a bikini was essential. I walked to work every morning through the old narrow streets adorned with magenta bougainvillea, and served breakfasts out of the bijoux kitchen…who am I kidding, you and I both know that really the kitchen was just blooming tiny.
Most days we’d manage to get to the beach for a swim, and we gorged ourselves of fresh Greek salads with creamy feta cheese. I haven’t got tired of feta cheese. Mr Sidestepping-normal hankers for a bit of cheddar now and again, but I’m just fine with feta. Feta on biscuits, feta in salad, baked aubergines with feta…
At the end of July, Mr SN left me here in Crete for 5 weeks. Life continued, and my first summer in Greece passed in a whirlwind of hard boiled eggs and wet washing. Day after day I presented the guests with breakfasts, smiled, and ran up and down lots of stairs. I’ve become a dab-hand at ironing bed sheets and I can give you the times of the bus into Rethymno…if you want?
“Life continued, and my first summer in Greece passed in a whirlwind of hard boiled eggs and wet washing.”
After 5 weeks of living here on my own (I did have Dora-dog and two foster kittens to keep me company) Mr SN returned back to me. In the evenings, we would cobble together a meal cooked on the camping-style gas stove. We’d eat our dinner whilst being serenaded by a cacophony of dogs barking combined with a rogue mosquito that we could never find.
“we’d eat our dinner whilst being serenaded by a cacophony of dogs barking combined with a rogue mosquito that we could never find. “
On Friday nights, we’d get the unwelcome surprise of ‘live music night’ from the hotel around the corner. I love live music, and this particular band were actually really good. But after 5 months of listening to the same repertoire in the same order, I was worn down. It’s great that Frank Sinatra ‘did it his way’ and I do have a genuine interest in the ancient rivers of Babylon, but I don’t EVER want to hear these songs again, EVER. Have I made myself clear?
August turned in to September, and one morning as I walked to work, I was aware of a stillness in the air. The sound of gleeful shrieks, splashing swimming pools and flip-flops had been replaced by retired couples wielding maps, pac-a-macs (just in case) and practical walking shoes.
I was running out of energy, but the end of the tourist season was in sight. Our first summer in Greece was nearing the end.
The villa didn’t rent out as planned. Toilet problems forced us to cancel bookings, but we did see a lot of our friends and family. It was fantastic to spend time with the people we love the most, and there was even a surprise visit from my mum, arranged and planned by Mr SN…he’s a keeper.
Nearing the end of our first summer in Greece…
As we waved-off our last friends from the villa, we made quick work of moving our life back up to the place we call home. Boxes, bags, jars and junk were all transported and moved in, alongside Dora-dog and our one-eyed kitten Nancy, of course. Did I mention that we have a kitten now? She’s a little darling when she isn’t clawing the sofa. She was one of the two foster kittens that we were looking after, and we completely fell in love with her. Needless to say, we just couldn’t let her go.
We’ve been home for a week now, and we are still gradually sorting through our mess of belongings in the workshop. It’s still a little cluttered in the house, which resulted in Mr SN tripping over with the biggest jar of sauerkraut you can imagine…he was okay, the sauerkraut wasn’t.
We feel so grateful and happy to be home, and we’re relishing the peace and quiet. We’ve ‘lunched’ on the terrace, pottered in the garden and at night we are lulled to sleep by the sound of crickets and insects.
What we’ve learnt from our first summer in Greece…
This is what we’ve learnt during our first summer in Greece: a) We love living at the villa and any reservations we once had have completely dissolved – the vila feels like home now. b)The wages in Greece are even worse than we thought, but our quality of life is fantastic. c) Summers in Greece are as hot and romantic and perfect as we imagined. d) The smell of sauerkraut lingers for quite a while.
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