So we are here in Greece again.
There were times in lockdown when getting back safely was almost unimaginable. Five long months in the UK we didn’t plan on went by remarkably fast and only now emerging into the raw sunlight of Syros, I think I am just about starting to comprehend the potential impact, on the way we live and what it might mean in the future.
I feel incredibly fortunate now to have left the UK. Greece is open, trying to stay safe and ensure the economy ticks over. This is a careful balance – we all bear this responsibility, never lightly. The journey (after many cancelled flights) was nerve-wracking but turned out easier than we had imagined. As we took non-direct flights we had multiple forms to complete – declarations stating we didn’t have COVID symptoms, contact addresses for where we had been staying in the UK and where we would be staying on arrival. Our temperatures were taken twice; before each flight. Overall, it felt safe and the real difference was that it all took more time at a slower pace than a typical flight. Check in had longer lines. Planes boarded and disembarked row by row. Airports were empty, spacious and had a only a minor feel of the apocalypse about them. Some shops were open, but everyone was calm and followed the rules. I even bought my first take-away coffee since March.
We had completed advance Passenger Locator Forms and been emailed QR codes to show on arrival in Athens. The arrivals lined up, some were tested – we were not. Outside the airport I wanted to fill my lungs with the fuggy heat of the city, all that gasoline and sun-drenched pine scent – but the mask stopped that! Eyes and ears had to be faithful senses for travel now.
It was so quiet, it looked more like January seeing all the taxi’s lined up outside the terminal with hardly any tourists to drive. The streets of Athens were also emptier than usual – not that we saw much of them! It wasn’t mandatory but we decided to stay 8 nights in Athens and rent a house in Pagrati for self-isolation – this was for us to mitigate risk and feel less anxious about onward travel to the island. When we took the Blue Star ferry last Friday – it was amazing how busy it was; packed with Greeks travelling to islands, escaping the mainland. Very few international voices. It does seem that holiday’s certainly have come earlier this year for everyone – out of necessity or choice. Parts of the journey were a sensory overload. I’ve basically been living in a small bubble of existence since March that getting back out there is a bit overwhelming.
Suddenly people are everywhere (at a distance); we arrive in the midst of normal lives happening, the bustling port of Ermoupolis with its cafe’s open, restaurant tables laid and delivery truck engines humming. I don’t mind being the first to say the beaches look better with less sunbeds crammed together. Social distance might be the best thing for the human and natural environment as well! The sea is clean and clear, with the cruise ships tied up and less boat traffic. Now what to do about the cars?! Another summer trying to not get ran over and hit with dust as we hike!
Unlike reports from other islands who mainly cater for international tourists, Syros feels steadily busy, not quite at the level of a usual July but Greek and some international visitors are arriving. It is all just a case of wait and see, stay safe, follow the rules – masks are now compulsary in shops which can only be a good thing. Everything almost as it should be here in Summer. It will be tough for businesses to make it work financially and encourage people back safely. But only time will tell.
I have to say that the first swim was magical – as was just waking up here, cockerels crowing, doves cooing, cicadas screeching; simple things back in March and April that were as wild and as far away as dreams.
It feels amazing and strange at the same time to be back – in our little home. After living in 5 different places in the past 10 months, unpacking and getting organised here was a treat! And yes, my store cupboard had yeast and flour and all the things I needed in the UK when the shops had ran out! Jam, anyone? Tomato chutney? Capers?
The ‘new normal’version of travel is undeniably different – with masks on and extra hand washing, plexi-glass screens in taxi’s and elbow bumps instead of handshakes. What is the same is the welcome, the land stretched out with adventure, the iridescent blue of the sea and the familiar heat of the sun, places that you leave only to rediscover again, the places you fall into that rhythm easily and feel a sense of coming home again.
Oft used is the analogy to say that in the pandemic we are all at sea together in the ongoing storm, but on different boats. Not all of us are safe, not all of us had similar experiences of anxiety, grief, sickness or life affirmations; I had a call with some dear friends the other night and some common themes of our ‘lockdown’s across the world emerged. Some were positive; re-prioritisation, focus and time to slow down. Others were fraught; increased pressure, finances, childcare, work and it’s impact on our sense of self.
There is no universal experience to measure against. But for now, life has to go-on, wherever you made it to.