Mister E and I returned from a week on Santorini on Wednesday. Unfortunately the return flight was somewhat delayed and it was 4.15 am when we got home after driving back from Manchester airport. With a time difference of two hours between BST and Greece, it felt like 6.15 am and we were well and truly exhausted. Note to ourselves: try to book morning flights in future to avoid such occurrences. Mind talking to the lady on the plane next to me I couldn't help but feel smug at the fact that, unlike her, I did not have to be at work for 9 am.
I had last visited Santorini in 1979 just after I had graduated, when I joined an unwashed mass of under 25's from Britain, Germany and France, sleeping on beaches as we all island hopped around the Aegean. This time, I am pleased to report, that Mister E and I had very comfortable accommodation in a delightful hotel and there was not a sleeping bag to be seen on the neighbouring beach.
Thirty six years ago I had arrived on a fishing boat feeling somewhat seasick and, as a result shunning the crowd of donkey taxis waiting to transport visitors to the cliff-top from the port at Fira, and walking. There is now an airport on the island as well as a cable car for those who arrive by ferry or cruise liner. Indeed photographs on the walls of our hotel showing the island as it was in 1926 seemed to bear a greater resemblance to the island of my memories than the modern day equivalent. How strange that so little should have changed in fifty years and so much in the following thirty.
Funny too how deeply-buried memories come back to you. So it was that whilst wandering around Fira's narrow cliff clinging streets, I recalled that I had once walked such, listening out for the bells on the donkeys as the pathways were so narrow that if such an animal was coming towards you from around the corner, it was necessary to squeeze into a doorway or gate to make room for it to pass. Now it was only the crowds from the three cruise ships in the port that filled the streets whilst the vessels themselves spoiled the view across the caldera. Thankfully, however, you didn't have to walk with your eyes to the ground to avoid the donkey droppings.
The island as a whole has suffered from what seems to be almost unrestricted development and whilst, as is the Greek custom, little is more than two storeys high, there are now houses dotted all over where once there was simply bare land. That said, there is also a plethora of excellent tavernas and the local people remain as friendly as ever with communication, in English, enabling conversations that were impossible in 1979 to take place.
We had a wonderful stay, soaking up the laid back atmosphere and simplicity which has rightly made the Greek Islands famous. Indeed I was dubious at the whole idea of a need for a holiday eleven months into retirement and feeling, so I thought, already totally relaxed. Believe me, retirement is the time for such trips. Arriving totally relaxed, you unwind to a level that I didn't even know existed.
I am not, however, sure whether it is sensible to return to a place that you have such fond memories of from the past. Perhaps more so in retirement one should hold dear to the mantra that there is no going back and to concentrate instead on enjoying the present.