Denmark was three different places in three nights. Russia was six in fourteen. A lot of Lego and Museums of Great Revolutionary Wars. In Russia, furthermore, there were also side trips to Veliky-Novgorod (south of St. Petersburg, on the way to Moscow) and Smolensk (west of Moscow, on the way to Belorussia, not that we went there), none of which I’ve blogged about yet. Now we’ve finally reached Zakynthos, it’s just us and Koukla House for the last two weeks of this trip to Europe. After the frantic hustle of Scandinavia, St. Petersburg and Moscow this is the quiet end of the line we promised ourselves.
An early morning flight from Moscow got us to Greece before lunchtime. For two weeks we’d struggled with an unfamiliar form of Cyrillic script, so to see once again the sweet hellenic characters on the airport signage in Athens was like looking through the crystal-clear waters of Limniónas after two weeks of squinting into the murky depths of the Neva or the Dnieper. In our hired car we started off around Athens, clocking the familiar waypoints on the road to the port of Kyllini; the Corinth canal, then that town’s Acropolis; the Elin service station in the middle of nowhere that we’d earmarked for tiropitákia for Alexander and Eoin but that turned out to no longer serve food, sorry boys; the great bridge at Rio; the sprawl of Patras; the crappy minor road with its mad, compulsively overtaking drivers, leading to the Kyllini turnoff; and finally, the port of Kyllini itself, and the relief of making the long-planned 5:15 ferry to Zakynthos. We could relax at last. Well, I could, once I’d driven onto the ferry and been shouted at a bit by the helpful ferry staff while I lined our car up in the right spot with all the others.
Up then, into the main cabin area with its reproduction Venetian-era illustrations of St. Mark’s Square (the one in Zakynthos town, not Venice). A Mythos and a frappé and I was back in the game. A light breeze and clear blues skies let us see the hills of Zante’s Vasilikos peninsula all the way over.
If you follow this blog you’ll know about our big trip back to Europe in 2015. We had an extended stay on Zakynthos from April to July (I actually wrote an excellent and life-changing book about that golden time), during which Alexander and Eoin went to school here, and a shorter stay in August/September the following year, on the way back to Australia, after the boys had completed a year’s schooling in Dublin (in fact, I’ve just finished writing an even better, and arguably even more uplifting, book about the entire European trip, which I call our European Odyssey).
As we leant on the ferry’s railings up top about fifteen minutes from the port of Zante (the more Italianate name for Zakynthos) two young guys near me spotted something in the water and shouted to us. I thought my hat must have flown off, or worse – the lid of my frappé – but it was a loggerhead turtle near the boat. “Caretta!” I shouted back at them. They nodded, smiling, and I was happy too to have glimpsed the icon of Zante so early in the trip.
Soon we were there again, out on the balcony of Koukla House, nearly three years since last we’d stood and looked over Laganas Bay at Skopós, or watched the kids walking back from Porto Koukla Beach, dripping wet Neptune grass all over the front yard. It’s nice every time to rediscover the pile of books, guides and maps we leave behind us, including the ones in Greek that I always struggle with in my on-off attempt to learn this most fastidious language. The kids keenly root out the toys we persuade them to leave each time we leave, often to be disappointed to find they’ve outgrown them. Two or three years of a gap makes a big difference to fourteen- and eleven-year olds.
Even though we were arriving in the middle of the tourist season (there seem to be more east Europeans each year – Ukrainians, Bulgarians, Poles), we’d come this year charged with a rather important task which would curb our beachgoing a tad. Greece has been undergoing a proper, official land registration process. All over places like Australia and the States there must be Greeks (and/or their children) with unregistered houses, shops, or olive groves in Greece struggling to get them properly documented, finally, and Tina was under instructions from Yiayia and Pappou in Brisbane to see if she could get Koukla House’s affairs in order. We’d get to all that in the coming two weeks.
Not being under nearly as much financial constraints this time as we were on our big trip, when we’d had to make the money last a year and a half, as soon as we’d given the place a quick sweep and the lick of a mop we walked out the familiar road through the ancient olive trees to one of our old favourites, Taverna Skloubos, and got back into the island vibe with a horiatikí salad (tomatoes, onions, feta, oregano, and Kalamata’s finest – basically, a Greek salad), dolmades, patates (chips), saganaki cheese, and a miso-litro krasí (a half-litre carafe of wine), which we had in the garden of the taverna to the sound of the cicadas and the occasional waft of cigarette smoke.
Admin be damned, we got out in our hired car one of those first days for a drive to the quieter north-east side of the island, with its pirate-resistant upland villages. This is the stuff; the real hidden Zante. From Tragáki, a village I couldn’t quite believe I’d never been in before considering this is my tenth time on the island, we looked out over the plain to the sentinel church of Áno Gerakári, which we had stood at before, now I remembered, and I greedily took photos over the orange and olive trees with the highest point on the island, Vrachíonas, which gave us one of our best days out four years ago, in the background.
In a nearby taverna called Achilleion (isn’t that the name of the palace of Achilles on Corfu? I asked Tina. The one we went to that time? It was, she confirmed) we had our second taverna meal in three days. Seafood this time, and Mythos, not krasí. This level of decadence was unsustainable. But for the time being, we were pushing the boat out. We were back in Zak.