Our Cretan holiday began with the classic traveller’s catastrophe – a missed flight. The 06.00 time printed so clearly on our tickets, meant six a.m. not six p.m. If it had meant 6.p.m., our tickets would have said 18.00. Of course, we knew that. We were shocked, surprised and embarrassed that we had made such stupid and basic mistake. After all we’d spent years now racing around the world with never a slip. We wasted several hours shaking our heads and blaming each other. (YOU should have realised, YOU should have checked, WHO had the tickets? WHO could have asked for them? – If you’ve ever missed a plane for this reason, you probably know the lines)
The situation worsened when finally we rang the airline. There was no plane to Chania that day or the next – our week long Cretan escape was disappearing by the day. But wait, there was plane to Heraklion the next morning at 06.00. Never mind that Heraklion was several hundred miles from the resort at Agia Marina where our room with the balcony and the sea views awaited us, it was in Crete and tomorrow evening we could be there. We’d already won back a day. We were packed, ready and good to go. Things were looking up.
After misinterpreting our tickets and missing our flight to Chania the day before, we were leaving nothing to chance. Before the crack of dawn, we were at Gatwick airport waiting for next flight into Crete – destination, Heraklion.
Our fellow travellers were a team of lads heading off on a boys’ own drinking adventure and a team of lasses (distinguishable by lurid pink t-shirts emblazoned with ‘Nikis Hens night”), heading off on a girls’ own pre-wedding drinking adventure. Both parties were already armed with vessels of booze of various sorts and seemed to be having a jolly old time.
On the flight, the lasses grew louder and the lads grew quieter. I wondered, not without a tinge of disquiet, if we were all headed for the same destination.
By the time the plane began to spiral down towards Heraklion, I was the only one awake and I contemplated its faded stones in luxurious silence.
There was no bus bound for Chania, at least not any time soon, and having already lost a day of our holiday we were reluctant to let go of another. We took a taxi.
Georgios, our driver seemed completely comfortable, if not downright pleased, with the prospect of the long trip to Chania and back. First we climbed, away from the coast, between steep rocky cliffs sparsely dotted with pines and shrubs and I thought of the World War II New Zealand soldiers, my father among them, on the run in this alien landscape. The road rose sharply and steadily to the summit and then sloped gently back down to the coast.
We passed slowly through straggling seaside settlements, remnants of villages with tiny churches and low stone cottages, punctuated all too often by looming modern resorts and hotels. On roadside signposts, I began to recognise names from old childhood stories – Galatos and Maleme.
“Agia Marina!” announced Georgios suddenly. So here we were, at last, a day late, but nonetheless about to begin our Cretan adventure.