Adam Bird

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Friday, 23 October 2009

Turkey, Turtles, Cake and Cold Soup.

Zante

Having spent two amazing weeks back in 2007 in the tropical paradise of Cozumel to celebrate John and Nadine’s wedding, Stephanie and I made the conscious decision to forego any holiday since then in an attempt to put all our financial resources into next year’s wedding. Eventually however, there comes a time when enough is enough, and a week in the sun is needed!

With reckless abandon, we headed to the travel agents and booked a week’s stay at the Holiday Village in Sarigerme, Turkey, an All Inclusive resort with pools and slides aplenty for Oliver to run riot. Turkey also had the added benefit of amazing October weather and a currency that has a great exchange rate against the pound.

Research is always the key, and in this case, we did some extensive research into the Holiday Village and many of the trip advisor reports were very complimentary. However, there was a darker side, a continuous mention of illness, food poisoning, pool closures due to “deposits” left floating upon the surface! Don’t get me wrong, all of the hotels on trip advisor have negative reviews, some of them are plainly ridiculous, but the recurrent nature of the reports and elsewhere across the web meant another visit to the travel agent and a reschedule.

The travel agent was sympathetic to our plight and it seemed that the powers within Thomson knew more about things than we did as they waived our “admin fees” and allowed us to change our holiday for a nominal fee – as it was we were proved right, the Holiday Village appeared on Watchdog in the week leading up to our trip!

So from a Byzantine Turkish retreat on the Aegean coast, to Zakynthos, a jewel in the Ionian crown. To be completely honest, we wasn’t concerned about where we were going, we just wanted some warmth and the chance to spend a complete week with each other!

This is, ultimately what we had and much, much more besides! Oliver, whom had been informed all along of our plans, spent the weeks preceding our trip carrying a book around called “Amazing Aeroplanes” and telling everyone that was where he was going and wanting us to read it to him every night before bed! As it was, Oliver’s enthusiasm was somewhat muted by the time our flight came around. The three of us had awoken the day before at 9am, and what with Benj and Laura’s wedding reception that night, things to pack and an early pick up at 2am, we found ourselves sleepless by the time the aircraft had taken off. Oliver aware of being moved around and about had woken just as we were checking in and stayed that way until an hour from landing – leaving our worst fears realised.

Not being able to take a nap on the plane, instead we had to contend with an irritable Oliver whose most exciting discovery about flying was the close proximity of the chair in front, which meant that he could reach it easily with a nice, well aimed kick. Added to this, he could reach the dropdown table and found great amusement dropping it down repeatedly with much annoyance I am sure to the person sitting beyond. So much for a small suitcase full of toys, books and bribery’s!

After arriving at the Louis Hotel Zante Beach, a quick change, walk around the site and our first sampling of the all inclusive lunch menu we took our places alongside the children’s pool to enjoy an afternoon of sun and relaxation - Oliver was in his element! Playing in and around the pool with his new rubber ring, braving the seasonally cold water with some rather adventurous plunges, making us laugh as his enthusiastic leaps in resulted in the occasional slip and full body dunking!

The real highlight of the hotel complex was its close proximity to the beach. In fact the pool area and beach were virtually indistinguishable, so we often wandered over for a dip in the sea as opposed to braving the chill of the main pool. The added advantage of the sea was the fact that due to the slanting nature of the beach you could go out for miles and miles without being too far out of your depth, a great situation if you have adventurous three year olds in tow.

Despite some severe training sessions over the past two years in the art of staying awake ignoring your body’s distress signals, I started to give up the ghost by early evening. As the three of us sat down for our evening meal, Stephanie enjoying some Greek fare, with both eyes closed and Oliver asking for a bottle - a sure fire way of determining his tiredness. We managed to settle for an early nightcap at the bar before heading off to bed at the rather early time of nine o’clock!

If that first day’s weather was any indication of the week ahead we would have been spoiled and certainly come home with a lot more colour than we did. However it wasn’t to be. Refreshed and revitalised on the first morning, the weather had taken a turn. Overcast with a slight wind we mingled around the pool with the other holidaymakers eyeing cursory glances at the sky willing the clouds to move away, which they eventually did and despite three full days of sun it would prove to be a similar case throughout the week.

If the weather was generally pleasant and just what we wanted, the friends that we made were a real find. Meeting people from all walks of life, from all four corners of Britain is part and parcel of the holiday experience. When you have an inquisitive three year old you find the task a lot easier. Especially when you find yourself apologising to complete strangers after your kid has stolen their kids’ favourite toy and left them in floods of tears!

On our first afternoon we were joined alongside the pool by two Scottish siblings from Glasgow, Michelle and her sister Bec’s. Michelle was with her “wee man”, Scott, who hit it off with Oliver straight away - playing in the pool and the giant connect four game that was situated close by. Oliver gave the relationship some status when he told us that he loved Scott and that Scott was his cousin!

Whilst we were there, on the Tuesday, Steph celebrated her 31st birthday and being away from friends and family I tried to ensure that her day was as memorable as possible. At 9.30am she was awoken by a knock at the door and delivered a beautiful bouquet of flowers, which was a pleasant surprise. We took the opportunity to head out on our first exploration. Heading into Zante town via taxi, driven by a Greek man who told us of his experiences of the UK and spending time with family in Croydon, a story we felt he must have told many a time!

Arriving in Zante town we took a leisurely stroll along the port, which was a fairly nervy experience. The port is shaped into a mile long crescent without a railing in sight! Walking along the pathway, fairly hazardous in places with broken concrete paving, one accidental trip could possibly result in a swan dive into the sea!

After a short trip on the train which took us around Zante town and showed us the sites, namely; St. Dionysios Cathedral, the National Bank building and the church of St. Nicholas, we sat and enjoyed a coffee in the quiet market square. If anyone has any doubt that kids grow up too quickly, then listening to Oliver as he came out the restaurant, rather excitedly and said “those toilets Daddy, are well nice!”, may need to think again! He was quite correct, but influenced by Steph’s earlier exclamation rather than offering his own opinion!

Heading back to the Hotel, via a long walk window shopping and getting caught amongst the chaotic school run, which left the streets jammed back with cars ignoring all road etiquette and a cacophony of horns left us rather bedazzled and appreciating the peace and quiet again on our return.

That evening I had arranged another birthday surprise for Steph, in the form of a cake. I wasn’t sure of the exact process, but ordered a chocolate cake to be delivered after our evening meal. Rather lost somewhat in translation I presumed that the waiters would be watching as we finished our meals, and that they would bring the cake out ready for our desert. As it was, no cake arrived, so we headed for the sweet trolley as usual. No problem I thought, they would bring it out after. Desert plates polishing and taken away, I started to worry. Steph was keen to move onto the entertainment area where they were hosting a Greek night, so in an attempt to delay her I suggested another glass of wine. All of my delaying tactics failed and so I let Steph and Oliver go on ahead whilst I investigated the whereabouts of the said cake. The waiters informed me that the cake was indeed ready, but they had been waiting for me to let me know when I wanted it brought out. So instead, I arranged for it to be delivered to our table at the entertainment area.

On arriving at the hall where they Greek dancers where already in full swing, Steph and Oliver were sat, alongside Michelle, Bec’s and Scott, plus another couple whom I hadn’t seen before. Introductions were made as we said hello to Charlotte and Phil, a young couple from Carlisle who were enjoying their first foreign holiday as a couple together. As we settled down to the evening ahead the waiter duly arrived and presented Stephanie with her chocolate cake, decorated with fruit, candles and a message that read “Happy Birthday Mummy, Love Oliver”. Also thrown into the mix were two complimentary bottles of champagne and six glasses, which were gratefully polished off by us all and helped the party get into full swing!

Generally the evening entertainment was more than adequate. The kids enjoyed watching the two person “animation team” put on either a show, or some dancing or series of sketches. The first night the animation team actually consisted of three people, but as the hotel quietens down towards the end of season the animation team reduces accordingly. They must be commended upon the effort and work that they put in, entertaining everyone from morning until night, day after day must be tough and not as fun and effortless as they made it look.

Zante’s main tourist attractions are coastal based, either by boat to see caves, or the famous “caretta caretta” loggerhead sea turtles. As the intermittent storms disrupted the weather pattern, being able to get out to sea proved our hardest task throughout the week. Two things that we both wanted to see whilst we were on the island was firstly the shipwreck cove, a beautiful natural sheltered beach which adorns front covers of holiday brochures everywhere, which has gathered greater significance since 1980 when a freighter ran aground after being chased by the Greek navy on suspicion of smuggling. Secondly were the turtles, especially as this was the one thing that Oliver wanted to see as well – something to do with wanting to say “hey dude” like Crush in Finding Nemo!

Unfortunately we never made the Shipwreck Cove. Our first attempt after paying for the trip with Thomson was cancelled at 7.30 in the morning due to bad seas, made worse by the fact that we had an early night the night before and had set ourselves a 7.15 wakeup call! Our second attempt was made on the Saturday before we came home. We actually made it as far this time as the coach which would take us there. We had only been in the coach ten minutes when the rep received a phone call to say that the lifeguard wasn’t allowing any boats out, so the trip was once again cancelled!

Luckily, the weather had been kind to us a couple of days earlier as we set out from the beach next to the hotel towards Turtle Island on the hunt for the endangered Caretta Carretta. We were joined by Michelle and Scott, leaving Bec’s at home to cure a hangover. Charlotte and Phil also came along, as well as another couple, Tracey and Gavin from Barnet, who had two boys aged either side of Oliver, giving him two more friends to play with. It also meant, that as the boat only held 26 passengers it was almost exclusively made up of patrons of the Louis Hotel!

Our first stop was just off the island of Agios Sostis, which is joined to Laganas bay by a rather flimsy looking wooden bridge. The loggerhead turtles are known to swim in the waters surrounding the island, so all eyes were peeled either sides of the boat seeking a glimpse of shell or something swimming nearby. The boat captain gave a loud shout and everyone followed his arm which was waving manically to the starboard side. With everyone racing over to the right, I sat rather precariously at the very back on the port side holding on for dear life fearful that all the weight on one side would see us capsized and seeking a closer view of the Caretta Caretta than anyone anticipated!

Steph and I had seen many turtles whilst visiting Xcaret in Mexico, but seeing them in the wild and in their own environment was a much more fulfilling experience, especially heightened as Oliver showed genuine excitement and has since been the first thing he mentioned to his grandparents on after returning home!

After we had all exhausted the batteries on our digital camera, we head on further out to sea towards Turtle Island to see the caves and stop at the protected beach for a swim. What looked like a mile journey to the Island ahead proved to be three times further! A somewhat nautical optical illusion that we sat discussing afterwards, particularly as we had to endure the same distance back - in lot colder circumstances.

After we had seen the caves, the boat dropped us off at the beach where we were directed to stay in between two markers. This was due to the whole area being protected as a result of the large amount of turtle eggs in gestation around us.

Being left on the island whilst the boat headed back to bring more customers left us all with a bizarre feeling, almost felt like being in Lost, expecting to have to hunt for food or set up a fire with collected kindling!

By the time the boat had come back to pick us up, the sun had gone back in behind an ominous black cloud, and heading into the wind on the way back the temperature was on the slightly chilly side. Having dived into the sea with my t-shirt tucked into my shorts I had to cover myself up with a towel. With the kids exhausted from the swimming and turtle spotting all the under threes fell asleep, including Tracey and Gavin’s two boys. Being chivalrous and seeing the kids shivering and Tracey exposed to the elements I gave up my towel which was acting as a comfort blanket thus travelling three miles back into the biting wind, topless and very, very cold!

As our trip to shipwreck cove was abandoned due to weather, and seeing as it wasn’t a “sitting by the pool” temperature we reached a bit of an impasse. Steph and I would have been happy sitting reading our books, sipping alcoholic drinks at the bar mingling with the others but Oliver hasn’t quite mastered the entertaining himself stage just yet. We took him along to the kids club, as under fours need to be accompanied by an adult. That wasn’t an entire success due to his first and only attack of shyness. In fact, all holiday he hadn’t been shy in coming forward in the slightest. One of his first friends that he made was actually a forty something year old women, another lady called Tracey, this time from Barry Island in South Wales. They had something of a bond and would always talk, play or scream at each other having lots of fun along the way – in fact Tracey was quite sad at having to leave him behind when she left!

So, as Kids Club didn’t work as we wanted and Oliver had exhausted his supply of stickers we decided to head out into Laganas to see what it was like. Actually, that reminds me! One night he fell asleep whilst playing with his stickers before meal time. Having awoken him to get ready for dinner, he wasn’t in the best of moods and refused to blow his nose. We thought that it was down to tired stubbornness, but it wasn’t until two hours later in the bathroom that he violently sneezed blowing out a sodden, snot drenched sticker which he had somehow put there earlier!

Anyhow! Walking along the pathway leading to the front exit of our hotel Stephanie and I were talking about the possibility of hiring a car and making our own exploration of the island, as this is what we used to do as kids with our own parents on our childhood holidays. Umming and arrring unable to make a proper decision we were fatefully passed by Tracey and Gavin in a jeep. They had bizarrely talked about the same thing that morning and already been out and about in their own hire car! After a quick chat we discovered that was only €30 for a 24 hour period and that there was a hire car place only two minutes walk from where we were standing!

Not needing much in the way of encouragement we head off towards the hire shop and twenty minutes later we were on the open road exploring! As it was 3pm by the time we had gotten the car we didn’t want to head too far and so head south west from Lagangas to a place called Keri, a village on the coast. Or at least, that was the impression given by the map! Keri indeed was on the coast, albeit, slightly more inland but the road past through the village kept going until it couldn’t go no further... which was the edge of a cliff! The road fanned out at the top to create a carpark of sorts and other people were out and about exploring on foot, braving the treacherous edges leading straight down to the sea!

Enjoying the views, we appreciated straight away the €30 we paid as a small price for what was something priceless. Dotted all along the winding road from Laganas to Keri was parking spaces allowing tourists to stop and admire the coastline which in places you could see for miles.

The following day we head out nice and early to make the most of the day, and headed north. This time we were joined by Charlotte and Phil, who no doubt must have thought Steph and I were like an old married couple bickering as my frustrations grew at Steph’s inability to read a map! In fact, bickering aside we all had a great journey of discovery that day. We stopped several times for photo opportunities or to take a dip in a secluded beach that we had found by the side of the road.

The real highlight was when reached the very northernmost point of the island. We came across a another car park on top of another cliff, but this one was slightly less rugged and looked like it was supposed to be there rather than just happened to be there. Two windmills were perched on top of the cliff, both had been decorated and done out and advertised as rented accommodation. If you were two honeymooners wanted seclusion and isolation you would be farfetched to find anything better!

Between the two windmills was a path leading down the cliff meeting a series of staircases which wound their way down before reaching a sun deck that was perched above the sea. We stopped once more and gazed around appreciating our surroundings. Admittedly, it wasn’t a particularly appealing place, or indeed safe place for Oliver who had great fun scaring the life out of me by putting his head through the deck railings, but for us adults, the place was amazing. Phil and I headed down yet more steps and launched ourselves into the sea, looking back up at the deck waving at Steph, Charlotte and Oliver on our way to the caves just around the cliff face.

Now I am not a particularly strong swimmer, and was rather nervous at swimming too far around along the cliff with nothing to hold onto, or to stop somewhere and stand. Although not heading too far, I was still physically shattered by the time I returned, the waves were not strong, but there was sufficient momentum that meant you had to swim further in order to keep moving forward. Coming up the metal stairs back onto dry land I had to take a sit down in an attempt to block out the dizziness that my swimming excursion had brought upon me.

Swimming is a killer on the arms and upper body, whilst walking up steep steps miles up a cliff face is gruelling on the legs! With Oliver not wanting to walk I had to carry him the whole way back up. By the time we had got to the top my whole body was a shaking mess of jelly and a stark reminder that I need to get into shape! Especially as we were shown up by the two young Cumbrian’s who skipped up without breaking sweat!

That Friday actually proved to be the greatest day of what was ultimately a great week. That night after depositing the car back we decided, along with Michelle, Bec’s, Scott, Tracey, Gavin, Phil and Charlotte to have a break from the Animation Team and head into Laganas for a night at the Karaoke!

What a night we had! Before the Karaoke kicked off, we had three games of Bingo! Steph was wearing her lucky heather tucked away somewhere on her person - as the first game she won €12.50 for getting a line, whilst better was still to come as she hit jackpot in game number 2 with a €90 bonanza! That winning streak set the night off perfectly as we ordered everyone a round of drinks and a shot each. Those shots were reciprocated by the others, so by the end of the night we were all singing along rather loudly, or in my case dancing like Liam Gallagher at two boy’s singing “All Around the World”.

Meeting such amazing people was a bonus that made a great holiday a really great holiday and with us all being on Facebook, has allowed us to share our holiday snaps and moan about the weather and washing piles easily and swiftly!

Gavin mentioned it whilst we where there, but playing with the kids on the beach and in the sea, the fun and enjoyment that the boys all got from seeing their dads run as fast as they could into the sea, just to see how far they could get before succumbing to the inevitable splash was priceless.

On a more personal level, and a justification for us going away when saving for our wedding was that for the three of us, a chance to spend quality time together, without the worries and stresses of everyday life. Seeing Oliver everyday for seven successive days, learning about what he likes, dislikes, makes him laugh, makes him cry was something that money cannot buy.

Steph and I as well, entirely too late to change our minds about getting married now, the wheels are in motion! It was, in some way a small confirmation that we are heading in the right direction, doing the right thing, enjoying each other’s company in way that we don’t get to do very often. Quite strangely, the best moment between us was on the themed restaurant Italian night, of which you are allowed one visit per week. The first course was a soup, but unbeknown to either of us it was a cold soup. I picked up the spoon, blew gently as you do with soup before placing it in my mouth. It becomes a sensory malfunction when you get the opposite to what you expect. But Steph couldn’t quite get her head around it, and continually blew before each mouthful. She eventually gave up the whole thing altogether, but how we laughed at each other’s stupidness!

Having originally booked to go to Turkey and having our plans all turned around and inside out, there is the inevitable question of - any regrets? Dalaman had a week of unbroken sun and 30 degree temperatures. We had a meteorological mix bag. We had the company of some amazing people. We had the most important thing. The three of us. Any regrets? None.

1 comments:

Adam Bird said...

Yet another great blog babe! Thanks for a great holiday I will never forget it. Cant wait for the honeymoon! love Steph XXXX

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