Food & Drink · Travel

Ro’s Recipes: Greek Island Hopping — from Here to Maturity

Ah, Greece! This ancient empire was part of my childhood along with the books “Winnie the Pooh”, “Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare” and “Wind in the Willows”. Greece was my educational and literary DNA.

So it was enticing to take up the challenge of visiting Greece on a whim one summer in the 1970s. My friend Anna, a tall, fashion goddess who had scant need of makeup and an internal elegance that needed no glamorizing, set an example of confidence by flying alone to the Greek islands for two weeks in mid-August, returning tanned and happy with a trail of young French admirers phoning and visiting from Paris in the weeks and months after. The following summer I decided to make the same journey just as she did, on a whim.

Heathrow, a small bag, a passport, travelers cheques, a return ticket to Athens Airport and not one word of Greek. I arrived on one of the last flights at an almost empty airport. I showed my passport to the sole immigration official and was nodded through into the deliciously warm Greek evening. No one there. A few taxis waiting for ghosts.

Pireaus, please? The port that gives easy access to the Greek Islands.

The next morning, first stop Mykonos – of course!

On the ferry over, I got chatted at by Sarah, a brash, no please, no thank you, New Yorker. We teamed up to share a B&B room when we arrived in Mykonos to defray the cost and provide companionship in a place where neither of us knew anyone.

Mykonos is that startling white painted, bright light blue, windmill dotted island surrounded by the sapphire blue Aegean Sea. It’s a small island welcoming young European tourists with tolerance for our loose, flighty morals, scant clothing, loud night clubbing,  and a  penchant for over drinking ouzo and retzina. The island residents, understood that these few summer months bestowed their income for the whole year.

The 1970s were a messup of food in the UK: a combination of the new fad, pre-packaged “meals”; over-cooked veggies and bottled pseudo-mayo salad dressing. So the food in Mykonos was revelatory. Flavor, color and texture filled salads and vegetables that many Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines also excel in. I was veg-happy for the first time in my life!

Somehow, after sun-chatting for a few days on the beach, a gaggle of three lollygagging men — a Scot, a Kiwi and an American — invited me to join them in traveling on to Ios. This was the late hippy generation. Young people were “into” connecting and collaborating, whether personally or artistically. There was an intrinsic childlike niceness and trust that prevailed; no threat.

Though the same age, I became their den mother. They checked on me in the clubs and I made sure they ate food before partying. Fascination was my companion, wandering around the small island, poking about the little shops, eating halloumi cheese for the first time in my life and loving it. They were boys staying out all night and getting drunk, then stumbling back to the large dark room we all shared and sleeping all day.

Ios — the remarkable
Sun set.
Open taverna on a mountain top
Gather with a glass of wine.
Silent reverence, watch
The sun spreading and spilling into sea.
Treasure I carry today.

Restlessness led to a farewell ferry to Crete, my final island visit in preparation for the inevitable town, city, large life reality, culture shock — after being cossetted by genial folk in their small worlds where humanity is the biggest thing you experience.

Crete is the largest of the Greek islands, paved roads, highways, ports and airports. One of the joys of Greek island hopping was that it was all one nation with no need of passports. I had given my passport and ticket and my gold engraved Christening necklace with the broken clasp to the owner of the room I’d stayed in on Ios for safekeeping. Another of the joys of Greek island hopping was that you become so entranced by the exuberant beauty of the islands and relaxation in friendliness and trust that you totally forget that you did not collect your passport, ticket and necklace.

My adventure was fixed in forever-after! I would be living Coleridge’s “Tale of the Ancient Mariner”, recounting to all, my exile in Greece: how I could never go home; bemoaning my perpetual purgatory for forgetting from whence I came and how to return; of being an involuntary expatriate, marooned on an ancient island!

I was in Sitia, my base for exploring eastern Crete just a few days before returning to London. Over breakfasts in a small outside café in the town centre, I had made friends with Mr. Andreopoulus and his wife, a vacationing older Greek-Cypriot couple. I asked for their advice. I needed to cable the B&B gentleman in Ios about my abandoned passport, but the Post Office clerk didn’t speak English and my three week Greek was “all Greek to him”.

Mr. Andreopoulus immediately sent a cable instructing him to send the items to the post office at Sitia. Two days later, passport and ticket arrived, but my Christening necklace was lost to history.

In my one day in Athens, I spent the day walking through the Parthenon, not just amazed and transported by its immeasurable importance to civilization and history, but because it was the zenith of my own Greek visit purpose.

It was a sojourn greeting my adulthood; recognizing myself as an independent, self-reliant person in charge of my present and future, while also acknowledging and hopefully understanding the past. Questioning these new realizations can summon cognizance and competence.

I had lost my passport and ticket, but not my way. I had lost a treasure of my origins and childhood. I was learning fortitude, discerning the symbolic from the real and a small new delight in my own daring. Call it confidence.

I returned to London, contacted for a while in the months following by the New Zealander and the American, but for many years until his death, by Mr. Andreopoulos. His son wrote to tell me of his demise.

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  • Anna Vines November 12, 2016 at 4:43 pm

    What a lovely story Ro, very flattered by your description of me, but happy that i inspired you to visit the Greek islands … still my most favourite place on earth, even 40 years on.

    Reply
  • Ro Howe October 20, 2016 at 10:19 am

    So happy you enjoyed the article Alex!

    Reply
  • Alex MacAaron October 19, 2016 at 9:02 am

    Thank you for sharing the recipe – and, especially, for sharing your memories. My husband and I visited the Greek islands for our honeymoon in the early 90s and found them much the same. It was the trip of a lifetime. We just sent our daughter to college, so a return visit isn’t in the budget right now. But, you’ve inspired me to plan a Greek dinner. Efcharistó!

    Reply