timberland custom boots A cautionary tale of a guided tour gone wrong
In 2010, exhausted by writing up our master dissertations and depressed by the wet, cold English weather, my friend Petra and I decided to run away to the island of Crete for a while. It was lovely, and we did learn a thing or two we had not known. One of those things is that not every guided tour is worth the horror.
We had booked the trip to Spinalonga, Island of Tears, because simply everyone we had met so far had raved about this. (very difficult to do on holidays) to get ready. We had our bathing suits and towels, our cameras, our cash. I walked around the corner of the bus and my immediate thought was that I strayed into Toon Town. The guide, Rolla, looked like Cruella deVille on the tag end of a massive bender. She was wearing a brilliant, shiny, scarlet trench coat and she had a sinuously sinister, Greek accented speaking voice that was creepy in the extreme.
moo oorning. La adies and gentlemennnn, pleeeassse. We will be stopping at five more plaaaaces to pick up the follllo owing passengers. and she proceeded to list their names, and include many personal details, especially about the six other people who would be meeting us at the pier in Agios Nikolaos because they had elected to take a taxi. Perhaps they had been forewarned about Rolla.
These announcements were repeated after each stop. Since it was nearly two hours before we reached the pier, this became more and more disturbing as the morning progressed. Between these announcements, Rolla pointed out various self evident things, for no apparent reason, and also gave us some interesting information regarding Bronze Age Minoan family life, about which, as an archaeologist, I was very glad to be set right.
and gentlemen, pleease, this is the resssort to o own of Mallia. I will spell this for you: M A L L I A. Mallia, it is a popular ressort for younger people. It sitss on the Bay of Mallia, which isss why it isss called Ma a allia. Alssso here is the Palace of Mallia, which isss where the brother of King Minos would come to spend his summer holidayssss. was almost a non stop monologue for the entire trip. To make it extra creepy, these news bulletins were preceded by a few moments of Rolla breathing heavily into the open mike, as she, presumably, was gathering what passed for thought, although it really was more like a stream of consciousness poetry reading. Not content with merely spelling out every resort name, she translated and explained the names of places like Mirabella Bay ( and gentlemennn, pleeeasse, mira is Italian for admire, bella is Italian for beautiful, the Venetians came here and admired the beauty of the bay, and so they called it Mirabella, because they admired its beauty. She described in detail several times how to tell imported bananas from domestically grown ones (Cretan bananas are much smaller) and informed us that potatoes are also grown on the island.
We considered making notes, because it seemed as if there might be a test later on.
Rolla also described some local jewelry available in Agios Nikolaos and exhorted the to buy diamond rings for good wives. This part went on for some time: my guess is that she gets a kickback from the town jewelers. Possibly in the form of puppies.
We got to the pier. We got on the boat. For the most part, Rolla was now mercifully silent, barring the odd announcement about picking up the chits for the entrance fees for the Island part and occasionally getting on the mike to name, spell out and generally gossip about a few resorts along the way, one of which was extremely exclusive.
We anchored in a lovely spot. I weighed my options. Petra elected to jump off the boat. As a nice middle aged lady who was not feeling particularly adventurous, having had less than my required amount of caffeine that morning, I got off and walked along the shore to the beach. The water was warm and unbelievably clear and turquoise and the sun was shining. It was like inhabiting a travel brochure, actually, which does not often happen.
After a while, we upped anchor and went on to Spinalonga. The island had been the site of a 15th century Venetian fortress, then taken over by the Ottoman Turks and then, around 1904, was re used as a leper colony till the late fifties.
a very sad story, Laura had told us. a book about it. a very sad story, said one of the women on the boat. a book about it. a verry ssadd ssto orrry, Rolla informed us. Not only was there a book about it, but also a 24 part miniseries on Greek TV. She said this several times throughout the day. It a very sad story, or so I told.
Petra and I ditched Rolla (who was giving a guided tour of the leper colony part) almost instantly upon arrival. We wandered around, clambering up to the tiny churches on the higher slopes and investigating the Venetian cisterns and the fortifications. Despite Rolla assertions to the contrary, there were some remains of sixteenth century frescoes on the apse in one of the chapels. There was not nearly enough time to see everything, and we were not amused to find that our time on the island was limited so that we could be shuttled back to Agios Nikolaos for shopping.
Agios Nikolaos is actually quite lovely. Expensive, sure, but very pretty. The harbour can host those massive cruise ships, of which there were two moored up when we were there. It has a lake, which used to be a freshwater body, but at some point the fishermen figured a safe harbour for the fishing boats was more important and connected it to the ocean, so now it is a mixture of fresh and salt water. It has a postcard y cuteness that is very appealing. After a bit of minor souvenir hunting, Petra and I settled down at a lakeside taverna for Greek coffee and people watching. We did a quick jaunt out along the lake edge (there was a teeny chapel and some sweet little boats) and then went to meet up with the bus.
The return journey was just what you would have expected. Rolla did the entire monologue in reverse, in case anyone hadn been paying attention the first time and she cross examined the women as to whether they gotten their diamond jewelry. Then, in the midst of explaining that we were at the end of the tourist season (in case we were wondering why eighty per cent of the businesses were closed up, or why Thomas Cook was selling off seven night stays for one third the normal price), Rolla began to tell us about how the owners of the resort businesses would be packing up and going back to their farms and orchards to work there for the winter. Rolla herself had work to do at home, too.
willl be doooing my cooking and my cleeeaning and my wassshing up. You know. Woman ssstufff. scurry to hide under the sofa. Tourists tremble and attempt to memorize the spelling of Hersonissos just in case there is a pop quiz. And, somewhere, there is a Greek suffragette, rolling over in her grave.