NB: I've decided to post the holiday diary up as a series of posts, rather than one long one, for ease of reference and to lighten the load on any of you who decide to read it.
Saturday 14th July
Katie was the early bird this morning, waking up at 0500 before dredging my sorry self out of bed an hour later. Following a thorough regimen of multiple last-minute checks and double-checks of suitcase and hand luggage contents, we left Mum's at 1030 to hop on a Coventry City bus to the train station. Arriving nice and early we dilly-dallied until our train arrived, and before too long we were lugging our 31Kg of stuff across Birmingham New Street. A swift change-over at Crewe later and we finally pulled into Manchester Airport railway station with much excitement. After a fair bit of dithering about we managed to locate the correct transfer bus to our Travelodge and checked in to a standard double room. It was basic and showing a little wear, but we were there for barely a night, and the bed was super-soft; like laying on a giant, silky marshmallow! I say laying, as neither of us got anything that could come close to counting as sleep that night. Prior to the failure to count sheep, we had a ginormous burger each in the bar/restaurant, followed by a little plane-spotting from the hallway and bedroom windows. Here, Katie demonstrated her excitement by asking, and I quote; "Are there any planes on the toilet?". Bless. Back in the room, I watched some Avatar before snatching a bare hours doze before the alarm rang us into holiday-time proper.
Sunday 15th July
By 0215 we had showered, dressed and run last-minute checks of our items (not that noticing the lack of anything would have done much good just then!) and descended to reception. What followed was a series of shambles that bears no need to detail, suffice to say the receptionist's incompetence culminated in our stealing someone's taxi! Karma gave us our due for this transgression, as at 0245 we violently arrived at Terminal 1, the combined effort of our feet against our cases stopping them from crushing us to death (turns out of driver fancied himself the new Colin McRae!). Check-in began at 0315, but we figured we'd go and see if it had opened early and, lo!, our curiosity was rewarded. The nice boy at the check-in counter took our suitcases, we grabbed a spare SD card for the camera in duty-free and before we knew it, barely thirty minutes after arriving at the front door, we were waiting in the departure lounge - it's gotta be a record!
To get into the Greek spirit, I sampled a delectable tomato, chicken and pasta salad from a food outlet whilst trying to allay Katie's fears of flying. I, for once, was extremely calm the whole trip, perhaps owing to the fact I was concentrating on helping my dear through her first foray into the world of high-altitude travel. After eating we took an amble down to our gate and, arriving first, chose a seat overlooking our airplane, Katie suitably awed/excited/nervous/terrified in equal measure in sight of our vehicle-beastie. The gate area began to fill up, and we killed our time both trying to figure out where the other flight destinations lay in the world, and praying the larger groups of teenage boys and girls weren't on our flight (old fogies that we are). As it turned out, both destinations were in the Med, and neither of the annoyingly loud groups came with us.
Eventually our number was up; seat number that is, and we embarked upon the Boeing 757-200. I must confess how proud I was (and am) of Katie at this point, despite her fears, she was extremely calm and collected as we boarded and sat down in our seats at 0600. A long wait later, forty minutes to be precise, we took off, Katie's agog face stuck to the window beside us in awe and excitement of the wonder of flying. Our Captain dutifully relayed to us that our cruising altitude was to be 37,000 feet, or six miles up in real money. Post-take-off I took my first uninterrupted sleep of the day, snatching a thirty-minute rest on Katie's shoulder (no worries - I had checked and double-checked and been reliably informed and enthusiastically informed that she was no longer terrified, now merely scared, and more than a bit excited).
I was awoken half an hour later to the best in-flight meal ever. Our flight magazine featured an article detailing how our celeb-chef James Martin had been commissioned by Thomas Cook to produce a clean slate of airline foods. He states that on asking his friends on a conference call what they all would prefer to eat on a flight anywhere, they all replied with British comfort food. As a result, we chowed down on a breakfast of Bacon, Tomato, Sausage and Scrambled Egg (which I traded with Katie for half a sausage), Orange Juice, a raspberry mini-muller light and the worlds best muffin. The muffin was banana and maple syrup, made entirely from the fruit instead of flour so it doesn't spoil easy, and retains its moisture for longer. Injected with a hefty dose of the liquid syrup into the centre, it was super-soft, super moist, super gooey and super flavourful. A Super Muffin, if you will.
Following another short, post-breakfast nap, we began our descent (cue both of us eagerly looking out of the window). I accidentally misled Katie, somewhat accurately counting down from thirty seconds until landing. I reached zero and was asked "Was that it?", to which the pilot (or the plane) responded with a very heavy landing onto the runway, barely one second after my count had finished (hence the 'somewhat' accurately), much to Katie's heart-stalling surprise! We were down at just gone midday local time, arriving to a walk across the tarmac in 30 degree heat with zero humidity. Katie and I had forethought our arrival luckily, and donned our sunglasses from the hand luggage. After a lengthy wait to collect our bags and a disappointing passport glance (disappointing because Katie wanted her passport stamped, and glance because he sure as hell didn't check them!), we boarded a small silver minibus and sped from the airport at 1300.
At just past 1415 our driver, Nikos (because that isn't stereotypical at all), dropped us off at the absurdly beautiful Aghia Efimia. Our ground-floor flat comprised a large combi-sleeping/living room, ajoined by a kitchen and a shower room (separate rooms, by the way...that'd be just weird). We hurriedly unpacked and freshened up before walking into town for a light stock-up. Six large bottles of fresh water and a sandwich later, we were back at the apartment and munching a magnificently fresh 'chocolate croissant' (that's Pain Au Chocolate' to me and you). Soon after we donned our beachware and hit the ocean, which was less than a minutes walk away!
Two hours later we emerged, salty and tired but feeling very much invigorated, and lounged upon the large slabs of rock that flanked the little beach to dry off (which, in the weather there, took five minutes). We returned to a cleansing shower in our apartment and relaxed a little with some literature until our stomachs decided it was time to eat. In our spiffy dining-wares we leisurely strode into town, by-passing the seafood restaurant, Poseidon (for now, at least), in favour of Spiros. All credit due to Katie here, as we couldn't have found a better place to eat for our first night. It was fairly quiet, had a lovely view of the marina and contained some of the friendliest staff that we ever came to meet throughout our holiday.
After ordering our food we tucked into a couple of slices of thick yet soft, properly crusty Greek bread, liberally spread with butter. Our starter arrived; "Mezes". We halved everything - stuffed vine leaves in a thick cheese sauce (almost a basil-like leaf that was wrapped around rice, meat and herbs), local sausage (Greek sausage - need I say more?), cheese pie (light, layered pastry with a crumbly-dry-feta-creamy cheese filling), tzatziki (nicely spiced that we enjoyed with some of the bed of chips), and saganaki cheese (a deep fried piece of strongly-flavoured mozzarella-textured cheese). It was, without a doubt, a brilliant start to the food portion of our Greek holiday. We both followed this with Kefalonian meat pie; essentially just rice and meat inside a thick layer of top-and-bottom (as it said on the menu) pastry, which was sweet and crumbly. Needless to say we tipped well, but I felt a more personal touch was required for such a nice start to our holiday, so followed the waiter into the kitchen to thank the Chef.
Once more we looked around the shops, purchasing some postcards and a snorkel/mask for me, before heading back to the apartment for bed. It's odd to think less than twenty-four hours ago we were in Manchester Airport Travelodge, struggling to sleep, but the sun has just set on our first day.