It was the kind of morning dreamy travelogues are made for.
The cry of gulls and children’s chatter mingled with the distant ringing of bicycle and church bells. The sunlight threw chevron stripes across the cotton duvet. And the white linen curtains billowed into the room like sails.
I eased out of bed and stood barefoot on the cool wooden floor, letting the curtains rise up against my face and then part to show me a breathless expanse of sparkling blue: the resplendent Aegean Sea.
I was waking up in Spetses, a small island just two hours from Athens, and I was standing on the balcony of the island’s iconic hotel: the Poseidonion. Taking inspiration from the glamorous Cote d’Azur lifestyle at the start of the 20th century, The Poseidonion opened in 1914 and underwent a five year face lift to reopen in 2009.
Poseidon, of course, was the Greek god of the sea, all trident bearing and curly haired, an air of menace and wrath in most of the sculptures that I’ve seen. Such anger befits the God of tsunamis, I suppose, but not the restful calm I saw from my window.
The Poseidonion, meanwhile, with its contemporary elegance and silver monochrome style, matched the mood of the sea at twilight, or if I had woken up in time to sea it, the rise of an early dawn.
This contrast between turmoil and tranquility in the minds of the gods seemed apt at the time of my visit.
As I sipped coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice, the powers that be wrestled and wrangled with debt repayments and talk of a Euro Grexit. TV screens showed angry mobs and Athens in flames yet nothing of the calm found on these smaller islands (and indeed, my time in Athens revealed nothing more than a smoky-blue sunset over the Parthenon from the rooftop of the Hotel Grand Bretagne that overlooks Syntagma Square.)
In truth, of course, Greece has faced a rollercoaster of deals, counter deals and rhetoric in the headlines for years now. It’s easy to imagine people living at their wits’ ends, scowling, heads down and worried, you know, the everyday expression of someone on the London Underground.
Yet business is booming, when it comes to tourism, with record numbers received in Athens this year. After all, the sun still shines. The sky is still blue. The people are still friendly, passionate and welcoming, at least that was the experience I had.
As fellow writer Sarah Lee put it:
But then that’s the thing about Greece – it’s always blue. I’m of the opinion that there should be a colour called Greek Blue. It’s uniquely bright, perky and, dare I say it, optimistic in the face of adversity.
Spetses itself is small and, I’m told, quiet as we’re here off season. But quiet takes on a different meaning on an island that never has cars anyway. While sunshine bathes the cobblestones, mopeds bounce along them. Shutters clatter and restaurants slop paint onto doorways and scrape chalk to show their wares.
Short waves slosh along the shoreline and in the boat builder’s yard the steady sound of traditional industry hammers and clamours away.
On an exploratory walk up steep, cobbled streets we spot an orthodox church and dare to venture in.
Even the church is bright, as sunlight pulls out sparkles from the gold-on-scarlet stitching and the pained and painted face of Jesus looking down.
There’s a noise.
We startle. Naughty children caught standing somewhere we shouldn’t be.
We freeze, we turn…
To find Father Pakoumpis welcome us into his church. We’re offered biscuits, asked questions. He even wants photos taken with us as we do of him!
Instead of gloom, he is celebrating what I believe to be 200 years of his church (our intermittent language skills only take us so far.)
And in those few minutes of conversation, I fall head over heels in love with travel again.
There is too much weight to the long economic proposals, too many harsh opinions in the evening news. Such things must be managed, investigated, reported and acted upon and we all have a duty to keep ourselves as educated and informed as we can.
But also, this too.
We must have time to close our eyes and dream, to walk through sunshine and to strike up conversations with strangers because, whatever the gods say, whether they live here in this church, in the sea with Poseidon, or free in the air, the spirit of Spetses remains the same.
The world is infinitely better when we can stop and talk to strangers. When we can each hold different viewpoints but we can all just get along.
Disclosure – I travelled to Spetses with the AFEA Luxury Team. They organise bespoke itineraries that showcase the best of Greece and that fit the way that you want to travel. Having said that, of course, it’s perfectly possible to travel from Athens to Spetses on the hydrofoil independently too.