Ten things Which didn’t Make Our Ten Day Stay in Alykes, Zakinthos Sheer Perfection

Caveat Emptor:

THE WORST HOLIDAY OF OUR LIVES

(*SEE NOTE BELOW*)

  We stayed ten days in Alykes, Zakinthos  and it was

1. Drafty: The way the wind howled through the cracks between the windows and the doors during windy rainy nights and we were freezing and that no one checked on us after the night that the thunder roared overhead and the heating didn’t work and water washed past the front door of our apartment.

2. The Apartment: That our apartment was unclean (filty) and we had to wash it ourselves and the shower curtain fell over and there was a small open drain in the middle of the floor in the bathroom and one of the windows didn’t lock and I mentioned the air conditioning didn’t work and it was dreadful and unhealthy.

3. Garbage: That fact our garbage remained uncollected (I used take it secretly down to a local bin). There was even garbage on the beach. (The place is nothing like the website.)

4. Value for Money: That the food was bad and overpriced and the supermarkets were overpriced and the taxis were overpriced and there was little fresh food and almost no fresh fish. They sure don’t cater for vegetarians.

5. Our Host: That the owner of the ‘villa’ (absolutely nothing like the photograph on the website) took our money and seemed to basically disappear for much of our stay after day three. (Did I mention no one checked in on us?) In point of fact he was called by another hotel owner we met on our cycling travels who berated him for being such a poor host.

6. The Unfriendliness: I could wax lyrical about the incredible sexism Iza endured, the whistles, the beeping of horns. It was awful. But let me give an example – We went cycling one day to the Blue Caves and turned up in a restaurant who didn’t accept cards (surprisingly only half the island accepts cards and has cash machines) and they insisted we give them our ID as proof of payment and we had to cycle 18 km with chest infections the next day to get our ID back because the owner just wouldn’t drive down to us (In fairness she was apologetic – but still …)

7. The Dirt:  Garbage left indefinitely in bins, trash thrown about, empty half-finished buildings everywhere, just sheer lack of cleanliness. I already mentioned the stuff on the beach.

8. Off Season: I thought all this was happening because we booked off season- or maybe they just didn’t like us. But other guests would turn up who had booked online and bang on our window in the morning looking for the owner who was nowhere to be found.

9. The Noise:  Construction work going on right beside our apartment, constant sounds of traffic, howling barking animals night and day, so bad that we had to move ourselves to another vacant apartment.

10. Stray Cats: That the place was full of stray underfed sickly looking cats living in bins and wandering the streets day and night. I mentioned the dogs. I didn’t mention they were chained up all the time – probably why they were barking and yowling day and night. You did see some being walked, just like you saw well cared for cats. But mostly chained up dogs or feral cats.

Those were ten things that didn’t make our ten day stay in Alykes, Zakinthos sheer perfection. I thought about amassing photographs and publishing them here and bringing some kind of documentary proof and so on to show you, dear reader, the state of the place. After I had done that I thought of writing a few pithy lines about how unfriendly I found the locals, how untrusting, how much you  -‘tourist’ or ‘visitor’, were there just to get money from (I remember one joyous moment I bought a bottle of cough medicine and some antibiotics and was charged thirty Euro). But I decided not to. Why? It was my experience of it. It might not be yours.

But away from people with all the greed and the dirt and noise and the money grabbing, was the island itself. Arcadia. And it was glorious. I will never forget the beauty of the landscapes, the shades of deep blue of sea, the lines of waves and the sound of the Ionian Sea at night, the myriad birds, the flora and fauna, the olive groves, the orange and lemon trees, the bats and geckos and falcons, it was all transcendentally beautiful. That alone made our ten day stay in Alykes, Zakinthos sheer perfection and utterly unforgettable. Just stay away from populated places, ok?

O. Ryan
Its that man again…in Zakinthos

 *NOTE*

Since this has been posted (11.4.2015), Iza and I have found to our distress we have been banned from holidaying in Greece. This is as a result not only of this post below, but of our posting about what was a terrible holiday in Zante on Trip Advisor. There is, according to some hotel owners we have communicated with in Greece, a blacklist “like the Banks System is all the Hotel Owners make it to protect the Tourism Industry from some “Serious problems”” (and I quote). I was told that tourists were not to be informed about the list, but its there folks, and if a hotel owner in Greece doesn’t like what you write on Trip Advisor, well what happened to us could happen to anyone. The thing is, we were the ones who had the terrible holiday. The place would be shut down in Ireland.

Uneasyjet and the joys of Ryanair

Uneasyjet and the joys of Ryanair

OR

NOTES ON A TRULY GODAWFUL AIRLINE:

EASYJET

A cathedral to capitalism: Gatwick duty free at four in the morning. Waiting for our connecting flight.

You don’t need to be fascistic to control your passengers. In fact things get easier the more courteous you are.

Unfortunately I find myself ranting. It’s actually worse than ranting. My feelings of outrage cloud my mind. Giving a biased view of a bad experience of flying with an airline is like complaining about the Irish weather. It’s happens all the time. Worse, when you do complain about it, you are being a bore. ( i.e – Of course it rains! Its Ireland, you fool! It rains all the time!)

Here, where I write this, in Greece, it rarely rains. Moreover as you read this, be aware I am an unreliable witness who remembers the slim aggressively perky hostess as she patrolled through the aisles of passengers, and stopped and leaned over to my partner, and said:

“Can I see that you have buckled your seat belt? Please lift up your clothing? I need to see. Thank you so much.”

I looked up in shock. Did I just hear that? I thought I was dreaming. My partner turned to me and said:

“Why are they being so awful? What the fuck?”

I shrugged with exhaustion.

“You have to remember, Iz, she is just one of that ‘fantastic team’ we were introduced to two hours ago.”

I mean I might have misheard. My ears were paining me with cabin pressure of thirty thousand feet and I had toothache, along with a knot in my stomach that would not go away.

“They are just, just awful,” I said.

Then we chorused:

“Well we won’t be going with Easyjet again,” and smiled ruefully.

You see, we were both unwell, under slept, and one does say such things in such circumstances. And when you say it, it has that strength and feeling of finality. But then I also remember that American girl queuing for Ryanair flight to Gatwick, the one where the cabin crew and the airhostess laughed and smiled all the time to the passengers. She was queuing just ahead of me the day before. You see, there was a delay before boarding in Dublin airport, and people get bored and start to chat and talk about things. She was telling her parents how awful Easyjet were. “They were just so awful.” Easyjet, or whoever, just don’t care. Not a bit. After all, you are one of thousands who fly with them day after day. Secondly you have to ask yourself: Do I mean it? Well, yes, of course. The proviso is this: that if there is simply no other way to get to a destination, one has to choose the available mode of transportation, unfortunately.

I write this on a beautiful evening on the island of Zakinthos, one of the smaller islands off the Greek coast. Downstairs a radio is playing mournful Greek ballads. I and my partner are here for about two weeks to recharge our lives, soak in some sun, and feel better. Here, the economy is in terminal decline. Though this apartment is okay. We are surrounded by ruined buildings and unfinished structures. Most of the local businesses are closed. We find a restaurant and go there regularly. The local supermarket is so overpriced as to be extortionary. But as with Easyjet so it is with the shopping. We are both sick, exhausted, depressed, and have headaches. There is no other way to get shopping, unfortunately.

This is a beautiful place. The sea is awesome. The local wine is rich and fruity and cheap. You can live on olives, bread, wine, and cheese here (you have to – foods not too good). There are olive groves everywhere. And oranges. And lemon trees you can reach out and pick. Buildings and gates and trees flake away in the sun. Dogs bark incessantly. There are goats and chickens in the surrounding fields. There is a pregnant cat sleeping on the doorstep who purrs and whines for cuddles as she approaches delivery. People drive past in cars with no windows, cars so old as to be at the point of disintegration. And then there are the locals, who try and fail so obviously to be nice to tourists that they are so obviously conflicted about. They stand and watch you pass with a dispassionate reserve. We got off the misnamed Easyjet at about midday today, tired and emotional. We flew to Gatwick yesterday evening, took a taxi to a hotel and slept for an hour or two, to rise at three am and pay twenty euros to be ferried one and a half miles to Gatwick to queue to get on board. “Sorry about that, mate. It’s the rules you see.” And of course he wouldn’t take a credit or a debit card. I felt such hatred for being so obviously fleeced. We went on in through security and bag searches and queued to get on board. My turn came and the Easy Jet person with the tightly controlled pleasant modulation took my passport and boarding pass. Its four thirty in the morning. I am rarely if ever awake at this hour. Normally I sleep eight to ten hours a night.

“Ah Mr Ryan, I see your passport expires in September.”

My eyes widened in incredulity. What had that to do with anything? It’s the second of April and we are away for two weeks. My boarding pass is scanned. I walk on a bit. I wait for Iza.

“Madam, you have too many bags. You must pack all these bags into one.”

“What difference does that make? The weight is exactly the same,” Iza says.

I too have two bags. I have a shoulder bag and a wheeled bag. But I have been let through without comment.

“Madam, I must ask you to pack all your bags into one.”

“I don’t understand why.”

“Madam please pack your bags into one, or you will have to pay a fine.”

Iza’s boarding pass was taken from her. We were stuck there till we complied.

“This is crazy. It’s makes no sense.”

“Madam you will have to pay a fine.”

“Yes, you would love to charge me more, wouldn’t you?”

Just then someone walks past me, a passenger. The queue is moving again. He is stopped by the second Easy Jet person.

“Sir, sir!”

“Hm?” The man says sleepily.

“Your boarding pass. Let me see your boarding pass!”

Again the nasty imperious tone and the same frozen polite smile. Who are these people, I wonder? What dysfunctional fascist school of people management did they graduate from? What’s this obsession with the letter of all these rules and regulations? Its four forty five in the morning and they are treating us like unmanageable schoolchildren, making us pack our bags properly or we can’t get on the bus to go on our trip. Why are we acquiescing to this? Iza is the only one of us who stood up to this particular deeply stupid arbitrary rule. What’s wrong with me to put up with this? This is no way for any of the hundred and fifty plus passengers to start our holiday. And these two checkers are the gatekeepers to our weeks of holiday.

I squeeze my stuff into one bag. Two computers, six books, notebooks, bottles of ink, clothes, the whole job lot squashed into one small travel bag so heavy it felt like dark matter. Iza went back to get her boarding pass. Naturally she was made to wait. And wait. Eventually she just butted in and asked for it.

“Who is your partner?” Iza was asked after her boarding pass was returned.

“I am,” I said. The Easy jet person and I looked at each other. I took in everything. I didn’t want to miss a thing.

“Thank you for your co-operation,” Easy Jet Functionary said, not to me but to Iza. As if she had a choice! Its heading for five in the morning and this was the only way she was going to get on the plane.

“Do not re pack your bags into two bags after you leave here,” she was warned.

Suddenly there were other Easy Jet functionaries and airport assistants hovering. We were not compliant passengers. We were trouble, or some such other interpretation.

We walked onto the jet, discussing how awful that particular experience was. Rarely, we muse it’s the event itself, but more how one is treated.

On board Easy Jet functionaries are patrolling. Baggage is checked and rechecked and moved from one place to another. Passengers are smiled at and checked and rechecked and after a time we are all sitting. When we are seated the main Air Host speaks to the passengers after safety announcements and routine greetings. Apparently as I mentioned before, we had a ‘fantastic team’ looking after us.

“Ladies and gentlemen I wanted to once more take this opportunity to welcome you all on board this Easy Jet flight and to as you if there are any or many of you who are flying alone to Zakinthos this morning. We have a mother here up front who is not seated with her child and we cannot take off until this situation is rectified.” Easy Jet Main Host stares down the aisles of this Easy Jet Flight with a near apocalyptic seriousness. There is silence. The silence carries on. Then it clicks into my dim brain that seemingly it is now our fault we cannot take off. This is something the flight staff should easily resolve without big announcements. I look at Iza and roll my eyes in disbelief.

“Is there something I can do?” I ask, suddenly taking responsibility for this issue.

“No,” Iza said.

By then someone else had possibly volunteered. Why? Well, we were getting ready to taxi. At least we said to each other, it will all be over in a few hours. We tried to get some sleep. Thankfully it was.

I see there is a flight from Athens to Zakinthos. I am pretty sure Ryanair do a direct flight from Dublin to Athens. I will have to check that. It seems to be the only way to get here in future, and yes – we will be back.

The most important thing an arrogant person can learn

is the fact that always there is someone smarter and therefore more powerful than you. I remember recently ending a lengthy and complex relationship I had with Facebook mainly because of the overwhelmingly unreal atmosphere that pervades that medium of social interaction. It was addictive, exhausting, a realm for self promotion and bragging and ego driven arguments that lead nowhere, a place for product advertisement and sales and keeping in touch (a great strength of Facebook BTW), a vast fruitful data harvesting source for advertising, a system extensively monitored not only by Facebook employees, but also by the NSA, police and security services.  According to act.watchdog.net, a service I occasionally get emails from:

Facebook has been monitoring, tracking and interpreting our unposted notes, comments and statuses this entire time, using even what we don’t say as metadata to pass on to spy agencies like the NSA or advertisers from Groupon to Mastercard.

Choosing not to share is supposed to be what little still protects us from governments and corporations that can hack our emails, bug our phones and turn on our webcams without our knowledge”

 

The fact that billions of people use it really isn’t an argument for it being a good idea. What was once an excellent place for keeping in touch and exchanging information and discussion is now more a place to analyse statistics, study markets, develop social media plans and strategize – all masquerading as a place to meet people meaningfully. I have no idea why email is suddenly unfashionable or regarded as a tad passé.

Speaking of power and its uses, I have been reading a lot about Leon Trotsky lately – Robert Service’s biography is wooden at times but still a compelling read. Another guy much smarter than me.  A brilliant mind and a brilliant writer, also a ruthless character. Someone who could destroy one in an argument (he referred to Stalin once as a ‘dull grey nonentity’) – a Chris Hitchens without all the the alcohol and smoking and extreme rightward drift.

Generally speaking most literary artists, be they poets or writers of fiction or playwrights, tend towards having, for various reasons that are well established, enormous egos and diva-esque complexes. on the positive side they also are sincere people with passionately held beliefs about how things might be changed for the better for humanity, the incredible suffering of humanity or animals or poverty or the endless injustices that we call ordinary life, (which is really not so ordinary at all). Most of them wisely channel their passions and their beliefs into their work without making the disastrous choice of turning superb writing into propaganda for one political viewpoint. It’s interesting to reflect that of those who do turn to politics, few if any of them have made any real change by involving themselves in any form of party politics, by writing political tracts, or indeed, involving themselves directly in door to door political activity, attending meeting, working on campaigns, writing policy and speeches. Writers are too idealistic; it’s why they tend towards cynicism. They are also too cerebral by and large to have good political instincts, especially regarding people, and finally, if they do give their minds and hearts to politics, they aren’t really writers any more. They are political activists or politicians. My aforementioned Trotsky is more known as a political activist and thinker than a literary artist, gifts he had in abundance. It’s an inescapable fact that while remaining deeply and passionately attuned to the world as it actually is; artists need to keep a distance from politics to do art. When they do turn to politics, their work in these parties, or campaigns tends to embitter them, mostly due to the fact that whatever campaign they are involved in are usually corrupt or corrupting, involves the inevitable betrayal of core beliefs, or worse, involves the ruthless use of the talents of those working for the good of the cause in order that an elite few can actually get into power. Embitterment, disillusionment usually follows these people afterwards. I can remember my own bitter experiences of being deeply involved in the Catholic Church (a very political institution), how young men (in my case) were deluded into thinking they were sacrificing for the good, that the ludicrous belief systems and doctrines of the church were really and actually divine revelations, and that one will get ones just reward in the afterlife. This is not so different to the poets and writers down through history, from Wordsworth’s unhappy experiences in France, to Coleridge’s experiments in alternate lifestyles to Shelley’s bizarre political communal living, all striving to find an outlet for their deeply held passionate idealisms for a better world. But it never works. Whatever the poetic style or literary inclination, particularly when younger, a writer tends to be used by politicians, abused and when no longer useful, thrown away by those wiser and older than them to give their campaign a certain credibility and honour even. It’s a mark of distinction if you have a gifted poet or writer on your ticket as a staffer or as a speech writer or as an editor. Your speeches are better for it, your publicity excellent, and there is an endless pool of creativity for you to draw from, so long as the artist you have working for you continues to believe in your particular credos. The trouble starts when the writer begins to see through the bullshit. Then the political party is in real trouble. Writers tend not to forget, and history is replete with top notch novels and plays and poems and stories by writers who were lied to and had their ideals betrayed. Politicians beware: If you are lucky enough to have an artist on your staff, do not betray your writers. You may live to regret it.