Date: 15 September 2016, 1am, can't sleep.
Location: My balcony, Malia, Crete.
There are one hundred percent drug dealers at this zoo of a hotel.
The cab driver who whisked me from my beautiful Insula Alba and its endless buffets and my private pool and attentive Yani of the endless mojitos to here was not very keen on dropping me off.
We had babbled away happily on the trip between hotels. He started to teach me Greek. I told him about Australia and praised the idea of a trip there. He described his favourite Cretan beaches. We both bemoaned the inadequacy of our tans. Then we got to Malia and followed a series of dirt roads.
'Here?' he asks, brow furrowed.
'It says it's… right,' I respond uncertainly.
“Here,” I confirm grimly.
He scrawls his number on a card. “You have trouble, you call me, Alexandra.” (The Greeks love my name.) “Just call,” he urges, eyes crinkling around the edges.
I nod solemnly and accept it. He rolls my prim little cherry red suitcase through the dust to the path. We say goodbye.
The Milos apartments are in the middle of the red sandy nothingness between Malia beach and the barren foothills. There's a suspicious pool, a bunch of dilapidated pool chairs with jabby metal bits sticking out, and, almost certainly, ice dealers.
As I arrive there is a smattering of people propped about the lurid blue-green pool and I ask one about reception. He directs me to the open air bar, over which hangs a '24/7 drinks!' sign. Behind the bar, Maria gives me my welcome shot of raki and my room key. My 'premium' 'seaview' room is a gigantic tiled space with the smallest glimpse of the sea from one side of the window and three rickety single beds, one towel, one sheet, one pillow. On the other hand, it's clean, has aircon and a tiny balcony. Deep breaths again, Alex.
Once I find the gang though, I find I could not care a jot about my room. It's just so nice to see everyone again and my little black heart creaks with love. Twiggy is cruelly tanned, lithe and relaxed after 5 weeks trekking the Camino de Santiago trek polished off with a bit of San Sebastián, Madrid and sailing through the Cyclades. The time seems to have filled her with radiant self-confidence (which, I can't help but think, would have served her just so well had she been intending to come back London — but, I'm sure, will equally serve her well back home in Melbourne). Paris is even more tanned. She too has been to San Sebastián and then sailing in the Cyclades. For her, too, London is already becoming history, somewhere she throws into sentences with acquaintances new and old in Melbourne: 'when I lived in London…'. She doesn't seem, nearly as comfortable with her decision to move home as Twiggy and keeps mentioning in a brittle high voice how, you know, she might decide to come, like its a nervous twitch.
Then there's Bambi. Bambi is Jim's little sister (do we remember Jim, from all those chapters ago when I used to live in Melbourne?). She is a few years younger than us and, refreshingly, acts it. She's sweet, sheltered and gentle; she expects the best from life and people every bad thing in the world suprises her. Then there's Chandler and Monica, sunned and loved up from a weekend on Santorini, and Flipper.
They give me the DL on the apartment block as we walk into town. Apparently it played host to a raging party the night before and this resulted in much late smashing of plates and yelling of 'opa!' and 'yamas' by Maria-of-the-raki. There were also a pair of drug dealers and one loyal customer, who ended up sleeping naked in a bush by the side if the apartments. In keeping with the theme, Malia itself is not a particularly cute town. I, laughing, comment that it seems rather like the setting for the Inbetweeners Movie. Paris, unfamiliar with the franchise, Googles it. Then we discover that it is the setting for the Inbetweeners Movie. So that gives you a fair idea.
However, Drossia restaurant in Malia is pretty damn cute. We discover it by chance as we stroll towards the beach that afternoon.
“This is the best food in Malia,” calls the man standing out the front as we pause to peruse the menu. It's so cheap, I think, I doubt it.
We glance skeptically at the empty restaurant.
“You don't want the best food in Malia?” He shrugs and goes back to polishing glasses.
By this point we've passed the 'best' food in Malia at least five times, been harassed b all manner of loud Greek men hawking it. Something, though, about this tall red headed Cretan arrests us. He's about 35, broad-shouldered, objectively handsome.
“Shall we..?” we murmur at one another.
We sit in the sun dappled courtyard. It's a truly lovely respite from the madness that is our accomodation. We proceed to fall utterly in love with Costa, the red headed Greek, and the place, his family restaurant. (And we will proceed to return to eat here for every meal of the rest of the trip.) We share raki shots with him, watch — smitten — as he bosses around his teenage waiters, smile and make appreciative noises when he introduces us to his nonna/ head chef.
We go see a beach and some ruins, have some terrible cheap 'cocktails', head home crispy with sunned skin, tidy up and return to Drossia for dinner. Beaming, Costa seats us at the best table in the house. Bambi and I go weak at the knees. We eat until we creak at the seams, drink clear sweet wine made onsite, have too many raki shots, eat some more.
Before we know it Pars is leaning over asking for the time– 'Must be ten?' 'It's ten past midnight!' I yelp in surprise. Funny how complimentary carafes of house wine can do that to you.
The next day when we lunch again at Drossia Costa is (heartbreakingly!) engaged in intense else coversation with an older man. When he finally joins us later on for a glass of wine he apologises effusively and explains: 'A friend, a regular. I have not seen him in a year. He us the Romaininan Prime Minister, you see.' (He's not lying, we Google later and that was indeed Dacian Ciolos). We all talk for a while and, when I ask him about travel and if he ever gets lonely (he goes on motorbiking holidays all alone) he says something to me I won't forget: “Alexandra,” he says (the Greeks really do love my name), “every morning I get up and look at myself in the mirror. 'Good morning Costas, I say — that's to me, to myself — and if I am happy in myself then I am happy'.” It isn't the most elegant phrasing I've ever heard but what I choose to take from it is that he, each of us indeed, has everything we need to make us happy within us.
Now I can't sleep.
PS: Now it's 4am. Flipper had been making friends at the 24/7 bar but made his way to bed via my balcony, where I've been sitting and writing this in lamplight. Flipper is a Perth friend I met in Canada years ago. The story is long and adorable and involves a 1993 model limousine. He's currently on a 'I quit my job' lark (I am familiar with the concept…) through the European summer and is biking through Scandinavia. I suggested he pop down to Crete to say hi. He said why not. Then, yesterday, he just walked in. It's all a bit surreal. We've spent the last two hours catching up properly and he's told me the loveliest thing: he's just fallen in love. In typical Flipper fashion, he's handed over his heart without any protective measures and without hesitation. During his bike ride adventure he's been couch surfing. A few weeks ago he was scanning the couch surfing meet ups in a Swedish town when a girl messaged him. By the time he saw her message he was on a train out of town but, somehow, for some reason, he got on the next train back to town to meet her. They went for a drink. Now he's in love and they speak for hours every day, planning when they'll meet next. Small town sweet Swedish girl meets earnest Aussie boy on a bike. It's the sort of story that can't but make even us cynics smile a little dreamily. Sleep tight.