Our ‘Awfully Big Adventure’ to Crete
(Gilly Webb and Andy MacDonald)
Crete in April this year was colder than we’d expected it to be – we’d been out before in March and had much better weather. We’d come over to get our 2 apartments ready for the summer season, and also for Andy (my better half) to check out the work being done for one of our customers (Andy runs a business called Renovating Crete, with his business partner, Mike). During the two weeks we were here, we also had to quote for some work on another large property for some prospective clients. Mike told Andy that he could no longer run the business in Crete totally by himself, and that he would need Andy to be here more often. Andy asked me if I’d like to move here full-time. It took me all of about 2 seconds to make up my mind … a definite “YES”. We knew that the only stumbling block would be our 14 year old dog (Sam), who isn’t in the best of health, but is still quite sprightly for an old dog (he has a tumour, a heart murmur, he’s deaf and is blind in one eye!).
As soon as we got back to the UK Andy took Sam to the vets and got him ‘checked out’ – the vets gave Sam the all clear, they micro chipped him and gave him his rabies jab. Andy rang me at work (I was a senior administrator for Northants County Council) and he told me that everything was OK for us to take Sam to Crete.
My heart was pounding away when I handed in my notice – I’d worked for the Council for 18 years, and had been doing the same job for almost 11 years! In my spare time, I’d been making handmade wedding stationery and general greetings cards, so this was something I was hoping to pursue on a full-time basis out in Crete.
We embarked on our ‘awfully big adventure’ in July 2004, just six weeks after I’d handed my notice in:
Andy woke up with a sprained ankle on the Saturday morning, on the Sunday (the day we were leaving - and the day that Greece won the footie) his foot was about twice the size it normally is - he could barely get his training shoe on! He decided that we should still leave, so I went outside to put the final things into the car, only to find that we had a flat tyre! It was early in the morning, so Kwik Fit weren't open. I pumped up the tyre (there was no way Andy could manage it) and we decided to set off, we just didn't want to wait any longer as we were already a week behind schedule!
We got to Dover in good time. Sam was asleep in the front seat before we even left our home town - he woke up a few times along the way to check out where we were. (Yes, you did read that right, Sam got the front seat – since we’d had him as a puppy he’d always been used to going everywhere in the van with Andy – if we’d put him in the back seat of the car, he would have spent the whole journey trying to get over into the front seat.)
When we got to Dover, we decided to stop and stretch our legs a bit, and I took Sam for a walk (Andy could only just hobble by this time). Half an hour later we got back in the car - it wouldn't start! Andy fiddled around under the bonnet but couldn’t find anything obvious wrong, so eventually we had to call the Recovery Service. The guy at the call centre hadn't even heard of Dover and kept asking us what town it was in, then he was asking us for landmarks - "white cliffs" didn't mean a thing! We were overlooking Dover Castle, so we explained where we were – he then asked us if there was another big or major landmark ("is a castle not a big enough landmark?" Andy said). Finally he established where we were, but then they couldn't find any record of our policy - by this time Andy was just about ready to explode. Eventually they found our details and the Recovery Vehicle arrived very quickly - it was just a blown fuse, so we were on our way again and managed to get booked on to the 2.30 p.m. ferry.
As we sat waiting for the ferry, we were seriously wondering whether we were doing the right thing, and whether all these things were a sign to put us off (since Christmas we’d had a new suite, new dining room suite, new carpets, had to replace the lawn mower, hedge trimmer, had to have our boiler checked out, and just a week before we left, we got a leak in our downstairs cloakroom, which resulted in us having to arrange for the whole suite to be replaced after we’d left). But we still continued our journey …
We had to leave Sam in the car on the ferry to Calais - he barked and barked and barked when we left him (we could hear him on the next floor) - so I went back and sat with him until they kicked me out before we set sail. Sam had fallen asleep by this time and he was in exactly the same position when we got back to him when we reached Calais (one advantage of an old dog – he sleeps a lot!).
We left the ferry and set off on our journey, and soon learned that sitting in the back seat behind the driver on motorways in Europe is not such a good idea. Not only did we have the problem of trying to map read and craning your neck round whoever was driving to see the signs, but every time we came to a toll, we’d have to make sure that Andy was driving (his foot was still extremely swollen), so that I could jump out and pay or collect the ticket, and then run back round to get into the car, making sure that the barrier didn’t knock me out!
We camped in our new tent overnight in France at one of the rest stops (we didn’t think the B&Bs would welcome us with a dog). The stop we chose was really lovely, as it was one of the stops that didn’t have too many facilities, so it was fairly quiet. There was lots of open space for Sam to roam around and we didn’t have to worry about too many other people being there. We watched the sun go down, whilst sharing a bottle of red wine. Sounds perfect, but we didn’t get a good night’s sleep. The road noise was horrendous and Sam spent most of the night wanting to get out of the tent to roam around and explore. While I was laying there I kept wondering who might be outside the tent, as I vaguely remembered hearing stories that people had been murdered at a rest stop.
The next day we left early and drove through France and into Italy through the De Frejus Tunnel. As soon as we got into Italy we were met by the most horrendous storm I've ever seen - added to that the rush hour traffic. We’d just gone through a toll and I was soaked and wiping the rain from my eyes, and visibility was so poor that we missed our turn and ended up in Turin in the middle of rush hour. The storm had affected all the traffic lights, so we were stuck for about 2 hours and didn't move at all – typical Italian drivers, nobody was going to give in to anyone else and let them go through first, so it was total gridlock!
When we eventually got out of the traffic jam we couldn't find anywhere to pitch the tent, so we ended up in a car park in a small village. Andy's foot was so sore and swollen that he slept outside on the floor in a sleeping bag, as he needed to stretch his leg out – he was in a really bad mood. Sam and I slept in the car, with just a mozzie for company (had to put my jacket over my head to stop it biting me).
We got up early and continued our journey. We were almost on time for the 1.00 p.m. ferry from Ancona (in Italy) to Patras (mainland Greece) when we got stuck in yet another traffic jam - there had been an awful accident, cars overturned and really smashed up - so we sat there in about 37 degree temperatures for 2 hours. Luckily the car has got air con, but we had to pin up pillowcases at the windows to stop the sun shining on Sam - we couldn't get out of the car because the emergency vehicles were still coming through.
We finally made it to the port and got the last ferry - all the cheap cabins had already gone because we were so late, so we had an outside cabin - it was fantastic (probably one of the best cabins they'd got). The cages for the dogs, however, were awful - no locks, and in the full sun. The kids on the ferry were just coming up and opening the cages and letting the animals out even while we were standing there - there was no way that we could let that happen with Sam – we put him into one of the cages to see how he’d react to it, and he barked straight away to come out again. So we hatched a plan to smuggle him into our cabin. Our first attempt to get him down there failed as there were so many staff around, so we went back up to the doggie deck, had a beer and waited a while. We succeeded in our second attempt to smuggle Sam down to the cabin, which involved carrying him down 2 flights of stairs (and he’s not a small dog). I bought food on the ferry and took it down to the cabin, as we daredn't leave Sam in the cabin in case he barked! He woke me up at 4.00 a.m. for a wee though, so I had to smuggle him back up to the 'doggie deck' for a wee. Thankfully though, we all had a really good nights sleep - and it was fantastic to have a shower!
So there we were in Greece - it was really strange, but I felt at home straight away - felt the weight of the world just drop from my shoulders! We made our way to Piraeus to get the ferry over to Crete. The dog cages were better this time and even had locks on them, but we slept on the open deck with the dog - it was a really mild night, so we slept on the sleeping bag, with a throw over us – not in the least bit romantic because we had the residue from the engines all around us!
Finally we were in Crete and at our house at 7.45 a.m. on the Thursday morning. We slept for the morning and then Andy had to go off to meet a client (talk about straight into work!).
Sam has settled in fine, he's loving the freedom and seems to have got a new lease of life - we have an early morning walk and late evening one, so that its not too hot for him. He's found the coolest parts of the house and loves being out on the balcony in the breeze too - particularly as he can see through the railings and have a nose at what's going on. He claimed the house as his territory the day after we arrived, barking at our friends when they came back from the beach.
Our apartments are located on the side of a very steep hill in Amoudara – we overlook the sea, with Agios Nikolaos to the left and mountains to the right (with the sea in between). It’s a fantastic view, and was what prompted us to buy the house.
Andy spends most days on site: working, meeting existing customers, meeting potential customers, and viewing property and land for sale.
I’m spending my days making up cards for wedding stationery orders I’ve received. I’m thoroughly enjoying myself – I can earn money doing my favourite hobby, whilst looking out over the sea (which is much better than the wheelie bins that I used to look out at from the window of my previous job!).
Despite all the things that went wrong along the way, this is the best decision we’ve ever made!
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