by Peter Nelson
[AUTHOR’S NOTE: OK, if you want to get fussy about this (for those of you who were conscious in the 60s), the “Summer of Love” was technically in 1967, whereas I was in Greece in the summer of 1968. But, hey, it was a “love”-ly summer anyway.]
Hitched from Turkey into Greece with a Swiss girl I met in Istanbul. Serena was very nice, but unfortunately, our relationship was strictly business. Girls hitching alone wasn’t considered a great idea, so girls often looked for single guys for hitching partners. Serena stuck a notice up on the youth hostel bulletin board looking for a male heading to Greece. I saw it, and so we travelled together for a couple of days. She had friends in Thessaloniki in northern Greece, so she jumped ship there, and I trudged on alone.
Hit Athens looking for the cheapest accommodation and scored immediately. What’s cheaper than a room in the cheapest hostel? Sleeping on the ROOF of the cheapest hostel! In fact, it was basically free. You just give a few drachmas to the desk clerk, on the rare occasions when he’s there. (One drachma in 1968 was worth about 4 cents.) On the roof, of course, it’s a never-ending party. Everybody’s young, everybody’s a backpacker, everybody’s in love (or wants to be).
Worried about the weather while you’re sleeping up there? Fug-ed-a-bow-dit. Never rains in Greece in the summertime. And I mean never.
And what a great place to connect with people, to trade travel info. “Man, you gotta do the islands. You don’t do the islands, you haven’t been to Greece.”
One evening, as I’m leaning over the wobbly roof railing, watching the twilight settle peacefully over the Acropolis, this, um, slightly gorgeous young colleen comes up beside me. Hello. Meet Julie. Raven-black hair, flashing blue eyes. She’s a part-time model back home in Dublin. So, in a scene right out of West Side Story, she takes my hand, and, as the other kids on the roof bang out a rhythm with spoons and pans, the two of us dance away across the shadowy rooftops into the perfumed Mediterranean night.[OK, so that last part’s a lie. I dance only slightly better than I swim. But Julie was real enough.]
So we became an item. We stayed on a few days in Athens. Hiked up to the Parthenon, which is awesome, even considering it’s mostly a pile of rubble now, but it’s an extremely OLD pile of rubble. But a word of warning to the unwary pedestrian. When you’re walking up there, watch out for the taxis! All over the world, taxi drivers zoom around like homicidal maniacs, but in other cities, at least they usually stay on the streets. In Athens, they come right up onto the sidewalks to get you!
Then down to Piraeus, the port city of Athens. Never On Sunday was filmed here. Remember the theme song? Duh-da-duh-duh-da-da-duh-duh, da-da-duh-duh. Snapping our fingers to that tune, we bop down to the ferry terminal. Everybody says, gotta go to Mikonos, so we bought tickets to that island. The ferry is super-crowded and listing badly to starboard, so we hop off at the first stop.
Only as we’re walking towards town, the sign at the end of the rickety dock tells us this isn’t Mikonos! This is Tinos. And the ferry’s pulling away. And the next ferry isn’t for two days! Oh, well. Walk off the dock, hang a right at Tinos town, and we’re on the beach. Hike down the sand a mile, dump our backpacks, and call it home. What’s even cheaper than living on a roof in Athens? Living on the beach on Tinos.
The beach is empty. Like totally. Not even a footprint. Nobody else is dumb enough to come out in this blistering midday sun, certainly not the locals. There’s nowhere to change either, but, hey, Europeans are cool about public nudity, right? We slide out of our clothes, into our swimsuits and into the water. Refreshing? Well, sort of. In July, the Mediterranean’s warm and also pretty salty. Great for non-swimmers, though. I can float around like a rubber ducky, no problem.
By sundown, we’re hungry, so we hike back into town. What do we do for camp security? Throw a tarp over our packs. That’s it. All our belongings, including passports, traveller’s checks, etc.— just walk off and leave ‘em. We lived like that for a month.
There’s only one cantina in Tinos town, and of course, everybody eats outside on the large open town square. We grab a table and sit down and look at the menu in consternation. We didn’t expect it to be in English, but the Greeks don’t even use our alphabet.
Pretty thoughtless of them! I mean, how would you like to order from a menu that looks like this — ΓΔΘΫΏ?