Lock down vacation

Signing the Lease Part 1

On April 1 the Greek government announced it was relaxing restrictions for one weekend so that people could visit family in other towns. This was my big chance to see the house because authorities wouldn’t be checking passes at the toll booths. Once again I rushed to get a PCR test, registered with the Greek authorities, rented a car, downloaded my favorite podcasts, and headed south.

Escaping Sofia can take up to an hour, but after that the trip is mostly on new, European Union-built highway for the next 5 hours followed by an hour on narrow, winding roads. As I drove off campus, I was sad to leave Jonathan, Lada, and even Plato behind, but a solo road trip was just what I needed to process and stir in the juices of my big decision. 

I waited until I made it across the border to book a room or to contact the owner of the rental to arrange a viewing. I had already cancelled once, and wanted to make sure that I was going to make it this time. My heart pounded as I drove up to the border as part of an unusually short queue of cars. 

Although I had all the required documents, the Greek border police had me pull over to the side. I worried they might turn me away since my travel wasn’t essential. Would I be foiled again? Thankfully, no: I only had to take a rapid PCR test, and after 15 minutes they called my name and said that I could be on my way. Hello Greece! But even as I screamed out the only Greek words I know in celebration, I realized I had totally screwed up. I had forgotten to mine our change jar for Euros to pay the first toll about a mile after crossing the border. Surely I’d be turned back or, worse, detained. I pulled over and looked for a cash machine with no luck. After explaining my predicament to one of the baristas, she assured me that they take cards. Duh! Back on my way.

As I sped down the highway, the two sides of my internal Gemini yelled at one another. One insisted I floor it and get to the house as soon as possible and just stay there, the other begged me to find the next safe turnaround spot, go home, and find a job teaching in the States. Here I was going to see a house in the middle of nowhere Greece, I did not speak the language, and had no online job prospects. Who knew where this might end-up? It certainly wasn’t the sensible thing to do.

But then the other voice—sounding a little bit like Lucille Ball—piped in loudly: You won’t get anywhere by being sensible!

It is true that Jonathan and I have made a number of major life decisions without considering the long term consequences, like starting a bakery—and later, a newspaper—in Silverton, or moving our children to Berlin, or accepting a job teaching college-level economics in Bulgaria. Had we considered the challenges we’d face, we never would have gone through with them. But they all have been wonderful experiences. 

Excuse me, the sensible voice said, you’re not so young anymore. It’s one thing to be a pauper at thirty, quite another to be one at fifty.

Ahh, just shut up you old fuddy duddy, the Lucy-voice replied.

And so it went, back and forth, until, at last, the voices faded and images flooded my mind: of waking up in the morning to the sound of the sea, taking Lada for a walk through the olive groves, meandering down to the beach for an early morning dip, Jonathan and I having breakfast on the front porch overlooking the garden, working online throughout the day, enjoying fresh grilled fish for dinner, welcoming friends and family to our humble abode.

I’m sure that for those who prioritize material comfort and financial security, my vision looked terribly insensible. And yet, it looked pretty damned good to me.

The closest city to the Pelion Peninsula is Volos, an active port with a population of 150,000. I arrived there in the late afternoon, knowing that the most sensible thing to do would be to stop there for the night. But there was that other voice that just kept prodding me to go further. After all, my ultimate destination, the rental house in Koukouleiki was only another hour or so away. I kept driving, now on a narrow two-lane, over hills and through olive groves, Mount Pelion to my left and the sea and setting sun to my right. I rolled down the windows, turned up the music, and tried to take it all in—the landscape, the view, the smell, my emotions. Funny enough, I felt like listening to the Indigo Girls and sang along to lyrics that I hadn’t heard in a very long time.

I easily found the road to the house because I had been studying Google Maps for months. It was more path than road, really, starting out so steep that I thought it best to park along the the paved road and walk down—sometimes sensible wins out after all. The house soon came into view, set behind an ugly chainlink fence and surrounded by a yard that hadn’t been raked in years. It looked perfect to me. I couldn’t get too close, so instead I hiked up onto the hillside and took in the view: ten olive trees, a couple fig trees, and one lemon tree grew around the house, which appeared to be structurally sound, and it was close enough to the sea that I could hear the gentle waves breaking. I walked back down the road to the beach which took a total of two minutes. The image that had swirled around my head for months was solidifying. I let out the longest breath.

During my drive I had contacted a half-dozen hotels and left messages, but hadn’t heard back from any of them, possibly because Greece was in lockdown and hotels technically were not allowed to be open. Darkness was falling. It looked like I might need the sleeping bag I had thrown into the car at the last minute, after all. I got in the car and headed back up the road, looking for a spot to pull over and sleep. It wasn’t the ideal situation, and I was growing anxious. But what choice did I have?

I finally heard back from a hotel in Milina, a little beach town about four miles up the road. I checked in and was led to a perfect stone-walled studio with sea-blue shutters and beamed ceiling. I ate a dinner of canned sardine on crackers and quickly fell into a deep sleep.