“I’m never doing this again,” said my husband, two and a half hours into our transfer from the plane to our hotel.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“A package holiday,” he said, fiddling with the ineffective blower above his head.
“Is it our hotel next?” chorused two little voices from the seats on the other side of the aisle.
“No,” we chimed back.
Another half hour later, ten hours after leaving home, we arrived. Seeing as the Greek island of Thassos is only a two and a quarter hour flight from the UK the total time spent getting there did feel rather epic.
Things had started well. Alarm at 5am, in the car at half past, car dropped off at 7 to the helpful man who’ll park it for us and bring it back at the end of the holiday. Admittedly, there was a little hiccup on check-in when we realised my passport was still in my maiden name and the guy on the desk didn’t know how to aggregate the baggage allowance for the four of us to allow for two overweight bags but we were soon through to Security.
So, that didn’t go too well either when my four-year-old set off the scanner and had to stand in the big machine with his arms over his head. I got a bit tearful at the overkill as they patted him down. My seven-year-old’s bag was then searched after they spotted a bottle of Minions perfume she had slipped in there and hadn’t declared. At least my husband didn’t get hauled off for an internal.
Time for a bit of shopping – the kids were promised magazines and an Egg McMuffin but, oh!, what have they done to Gatwick?! It’s less than two years since we last flew but after Security we were herded into a small dark area where lots of people stood looking very confused. The only choice was left to WHSmith or straight on to an Ikea-style pathway leading through the duty-free shop. Once you were on it there was no getting off. And it was all so black. Design statement or depressing and oppressive?
Eventually, we were through to a more open plan area. The Smiths here was smaller – not so much choice for the kids – so we had to go back down the yellow-brick-road to the first one. With only the magazines bought they announced our gate. No time for Maccy D’s!
Back through the winding pathway with no time to contemplate whether my Georgio Armani perfume might be cheaper her than on the high street, we dived into Boots for water and sandwiches, a last minute bottle of Aftersun and some sucky sweets for the ascent and descent.
I must admit I was starting to flag at this point having spent the last two days semi-conscious with a nasty bug. We got to our gate to be told the plane was late to the stand but boarded soon after and took off only half-hour late, making up much of that time in the air.
We landed at Kavala airport at 2.15pm local time. It was a bit hazy but warm enough on the walk into the Arrivals lounge. Passport control was a breeze, the bags came through quickly although, of course, ours were last and we were the last family to leave the arrivals hall. Only an old lady who required special assistance came after us, but, hey, we were through.
Although it hadn’t gone entirely smoothly up ‘til then I think of this as the point it really started to go wrong.
We were directed to coach number 3, a double-decker, and of course the kids wanted to be upstairs. It was as hot as Hades up there but we assured them the air-con would kick in when the engine started. The heat was making me feel distinctly odd but Pedro (I swear that was the name the rep called the driver although this is hotly disputed by my husband not least because we were in Greece and not Spain) seemed in no rush. And how.
Helen, the rep, began her welcome speech over a Tannoy turned up to max volume and max distortion while Pedro sorted the last of the cases. It was so painful for my virus-ridden head I had to put my fingers in my ears. Through this self-muffling I could still hear every long, slow, painful word, only outdone by the long, slow, painful drive to the harbour.
The transfer was to take 20 minutes and we were booked on the 4.15pm ferry. The what?! We landed at 2.15 – a two-hour window to disembark and travel 20 mins down the road?
But we were ignoring the Pedro factor which they obviously knew about at the Thomas Cook HQ when they were designing the itinerary. The 20-minute transfer took us 50 minutes. We were going so slowly other double-decker coaches overtook us. And cars, vans, lorries.
“A donkey and cart just went past,” huffed my husband.
I had to take my fingers out of my ears to hear him as Helen was still giving us her speech – how green Thassos was due to the pine and olive trees covering the island, how they mined marble and exported it to the Middle East, how the tap water was safe but not recommended for drinking. I think it was about then my husband made his comment about package holidays.
Eventually, she stopped and I fell asleep. When I woke we were still in transit. Finally, we reached the harbour and onto a fabulously large, clean and new-looking ferry for the thirty-five-minute crossing which was a breezy sunny delight apart from seagulls dive-bombing the boat for the sandwiches people were throwing out for them. Horrible creatures (see earlier blogs).
Unfortunately, Helen and Pedro came with us and we climbed back on the coach wondering how long this part would take.
Long enough for Helen to tell us about Thassos – how green Thassos was due to the pine and olive trees covering the island, how they mined marble and exported it to the Middle East, how the tap water was safe but not recommended for drinking – with added bon mots such as ‘when you leave the coach take your bags with you’ and ‘come to the Let’s Meet and I’ll tell you a bit about the island’.
“You can go to that,” I said to my husband.
Even Pedro must have had enough as he seemed to go a little faster.
We dropped off at hotel number 1, the Four Seasons.
“Ah,” I said, knowingly. “They always show you the nicest hotel first so you know to pay more next time.”
“Nah-uh,” said my husband. “Four Season, not Four Seasons.”
“Surely not?” I said, but sure enough, the sign said The Four Season. Apart from the appalling grammar and blatant misrepresentation how would it compare? Not well. It was a smallish, brown affair with a pool, not terrible-looking, just not great. Number 2 was slightly larger, a bit more open, and a few more were released from the hell of the coach and Helen’s narration.
“Okay, that was the Hotel Georgios in the village of Skala Prinou we just dropped off at –“ WE KNOW! We just lived through it twenty seconds ago! “– and now we’ll go on to the Hotel Alea in the village of Prinos.”
Yay! That’s us!
“Kids, we’re next.” They perked up out of their slumped positions.
“Can we go to the pool?”
“Can we get an ice cream?”
We looked at our watches. 5.15pm. Three hours after landing.
“Let’s see what’s what when we get there,” said their dad. They knew he’d take them to the pool, I knew he’d take them to the pool, he knew he’d take them to the pool but appearances had to be maintained.
Pedro slowed ominously as we approached a hotel with grilles on the windows.
“That looks like a prison,” I said. Maybe they’d employed the same design team as Gatwick Airport.
Thankfully, we drove on by albeit at a pace a snail with ME could have outrun.
And then we arrived at the grandest hotel so far. It had a large open reception with hints of beach and pool beyond. The décor was calming teal and beige and it looked spotlessly clean.
“This looks lovely,” my husband remarked.
“I’m so glad it wasn’t the first one,” said another lady from the coach. They shared a ‘lucky escape’ look.
Apart from being ‘tagged’ for the week with a wristband we weren’t allowed to remove all looked good.
“Why can’t we take these off?” said my daughter, tugging at it.
“If you want the nice food and the free ice-creams you’ll leave it on,” I said.
After they dipped in the pool whilst I unpacked we got ready for dinner and went up in the glass lift to the al fresco dining room overlooking the gardens, pool and sea.
“Next time we go away,” said my husband, sipping at his first cool on-tap Amstel, “make sure we book somewhere like this.”
PS. He went to the welcome meeting.
“How was it?” I asked.
“Did you get a map of the island?”
“Did she tell you about the island?”
“About how green it was, and the marble and the tap water?”
He paused. “She’s missed her calling. She should be on one of those shopping channels where all they do is repeat themselves over and over.” He paused again. “You’re going to the next one.”
PPS. We both know I’m not but appearances have to be maintained.
PPPS. “What’s the name of that town on the mainland that the rep said we were near?” I asked.
“Kavala, where the airport is.”
“Not that one. She mentioned a bigger town, began with an H.”
“I don’t’ remember that,” he said, frowning.
“You know why?” I said.
“Because she only said it once.”