γειά σου! I’m back in London after two hot, happy and tasty weeks in Zakynthos – a beautiful Greek Island surrounded by warm turquoise waters – where I holidayed with my fiancé and his family and where I tried and failed to play enough ping-pong to account for the millions, nay trillions, of calories I hoovered up every day.
Very nearly every day the sky was a deep, cobalt blue and the sun beat down and tanned our skin, causing an explosion of freckles and light streaks in our hair. Throughout the island, the trees burst with bright purple Bougainvilleas, palm trees swayed in the breeze and the branches of olive trees held swallows and swifts, whilst figs and lemons swelled, brightened and fell to the floor.
During my vacation I discovered firsthand, just how and why Greeks are the world’s biggest, per capita, consumers of cheese – eating around 25kg per capita annually – as one of our typical meals would involve hefty blocks of creamy feta perched on salads, cheesy gooey chilli balls, and slabs of Saganaki – fried, yes that’s right fried, cheese. We wolfed down barbequed halloumi, gobbled spinach and feta pies and during dinners at the villa ate cheese during as many meals as feasible. I loved every single gorgeous bite.
Above the sound of donkey’s hee-hawing, kitten’s miaows and the lapping of waves against the shore, come nighttime we would watch the sun set as we ate at tavernas perched upon the cliff’s edge where we would slather mountains of fresh, homemade tzatziki on juicy pork souvlaki, and listen – yet again – to Zorba the Greek. Slick Dolmades and giant beans cooked in tomatoes and oil got our mouths watering before friendly, charming waiters – not alas, all of the Shirley Valentine ilk – bought plate after plate of mousakka, rabbit stifado and suckling pig. One night Josh had “drunk beef” – steak cooked in Mythos which was like a British casserole – and I confess we did venture into the nearest resort for a “Full English” which included a sausage which surely consisted of 98% rusk.
We drank much wine. It was good and bad and ugly. Chilled glasses of red wine, fruity sangria, awful spumante, best for unblocking drains, and I survived my first, perhaps last, glass of retsina. Retsina is a Greek wine, that has been produced for over 2,000 years and which has a unique flavour said to originate from the practice of sealing wine vessels with pine resin. It was, to paraphrase my Father in-law-to-be, a wine that tasted a bit like toilet duck. It was also said to taste more refined than the last time my Mother-in-Law-to-be drank it, a few years ago. Well, it tasted pretty, ummm, interesting this time round and I am not sure I’ll be rushing to import any to Britain.
Being on island I had to push aside my fishiness about seafood and try the treasures from the sea. I endured sardines so strong I had to drink retsina to take away the taste, juicy great whitebait and soft and chewy calamari drenched with zingy lemon juice. I drew the line at a tin of octopus which we skewered and toasted on the barbeque. Bleeruuugh. Maybe next year.
So, aside from the sun, the crystal sea, the warm honeyed air, the sultry summer night barbecues, the days spent catching up on reading, testing matches of ping-pong, hours spent playing with kittens, ice cream after ice cream and shopping trips for knock-off sunglasses, Zakynthos shone by being incredibly welcoming and hospitable. Every time we went out for dinner, the owner of the Taverna, a waitress or waiter, would finish the meal by bringing over a free treat – tart and juicy kiwi smoothies, apples in cinnamon syrup, chilled local wine, a nutmeg liquor and even a slice of their son’s birthday cake.
It was so kind and sweet that it, along with the huge amounts of belly-laughs and fun we had dorking around all day in the sunshine, made it incredibly difficult to bid the Island goodbye.