Tag Archives: Travel

Nice VII

And so after dinner at The Windsor hotel we strolled for the last time along the Promenade des Anglais towards the venue of our final night in Nice – the Casino Ruhl.
Sarah, excited to be stepping foot inside a gambling house for the first time, examined my denims.
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“Tom, do you think you’re dressed appropriately? Don’t you need a tie at least?”
“As long as I’m not naked and I have some cash, they’ll let me in, don’t worry.”
If the gaudy lights and red carpet outside the Casino Ruhl were an attempt at sophistication and glamour, they failed. The Casino’s facade was tack, brash, at odds with the rest of the City. It was as though, half apologetically, the casino was trying to ape its natural counterparts in Las Vegas. Up close, the red carpet and decorations had a tired, end of the pier look, as though the casino was saying, ok we know the whole thing is seedy, but come in any way and hand over your money.

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At the kiosk we showed our passports ( a sop to money laundering) and headed to the bar.
My first surprise was the cost of the drinks. Not only were they not free (ok I’m no high roller) – they were eye-wateringly expensive.
We sauntered past the slot machines – big heavy-duty machines each with their own leather chair bolted to the floor – and headed for the tables for a game of 21.

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I slipped into a seat next to a leathery looking man in his sixties. The croupier wordlessly slipped him two cards. Lifting the corners, he glanced at their value and tossed a couple of chips at the dealer. A sour faced woman in her early thirties, dressed entirely in black, she wordlessly tidied his stake and awaited instructions.

With a micro tap of his index finger the man requested another card. The croupier snapped a card on top of the existing hand, this time face up. A pause, then with a tiny shake of the head he indicated that he was happy with his position. The croupier then turned over her own two cards. A Jack and a two. Without hesitating she slipped a third card from her shoe and snapped it perfectly on-top of her existing pair. Seven of hearts. So to beat the house our friend with the grey slicked back hair and gnarled fingers needed twenty or twenty-one. He flung his hand away and cursed under his breath while the croupier scooped the chips into a round little hole to her left, a hopper containing the broken dreams of a thousand gamblers.

The next hand began. Now as well as the two cards dealt to my friend on my right, I was given my own pair. Mimicking the pro, I lifted the corners. An ace and a three! Immediately I panicked, whenever I played pontoon at home on the carpet in front of the fire with my older brother (the last time I’d actually played the game) an Ace had the twin values of either eleven or one. The embarrassment of ploughing on with card after card when I was already bust was terrifying. What should I do? Sarah, toying with her hair and looking around to see if anyone had noticed that she was hanging round with the Cincinnati Kid, waited for my shrewd gambling decision. I nodded for another card. The croupier turned over a three. So now I had seventeen (or possibly seven).
I decided to stick, as did my fellow player. The croupier flipped over her hand – a five and a ten. She flipped over another – a nine. She was bust! My ten euros were now twenty! I was a winner, I was a success! I turned to my comrade in arms, hoping for a high-five of victory, but he didn’t look up, instead he growled the same curse that he had uttered when he lost the previous hand.

Flushed with success I decided to transfer my fantastic winning streak to the roulette table. This time the table was surrounded by punters. We bought twenty Euros of single white chips and played red or black. At one point I had doubled my money. My head told me to walk away. But of course I didn’t. Six minute later I was five euros down. We decided to play on the numbers part of the baize. Casually, I threw a chip onto number 33, I reckoned that one last throw might bring us a jackpot.
Sarah shrugged her shoulders, assuming that I knew what I was doing. The croupier, a young man with a thick-set forehead and sallow cheeks watched me place my bet, then disdainfully throwing my stake back at me!
Sarah whispered, “Why is he doing that?”

To which I replied. “I’ve got no fucking idea.”
Obviously there was some unknown gambling protocol that I had failed to adhere to.
Realising that really, we didn’t have a clue what we were doing, we decided to people watch.
The pontoon guy had sauntered over to the roulette table. He was doing his same stern-faced curse at the result of every spin. Then I spotted a very glamorous lady playing the wheel.

Around forty, she wore an expensive, multi coloured blouse and white designer jeans. I deferred to Sarah for an estimation of the quality. She confirmed that they were very expensive clothes. Then the ice. She wore three diamond rings, the most impressive of which was on her engagement finger, a luminescent stone with an internal fire that shone even in the subdued lighting of the casino. Wearing the same surly look as my pontoon friend, she peeled off one €50 note after another from an ever reducing wad as she gambled bigger and bigger. The croupier relieved her of her money by placing it over a slot in the table and pushing it down with a clear plastic cleaver, consigning the note to its fate with a sharp snap of his wrist.
After a while Sarah whispered to me, “Theres something about this place I don’t like. What is it?”

“It’s obvious. Have you noticed something ? Nobody talks and everybody looks so serious? There’s one simple explanation. We are on a room full of addicts.”
Sarah looked around. Of course, that’s why everyone looked so miserable, they were all feeding an addiction. That’s why victory and defeat were greeted in the same desperate, slightly aggressive manner – they didn’t care if they won or lost, they just wanted the buzz of the bet.

We left shortly afterwards, breathing in the cool fresh air of the Mediterranean that crashed up onto the pebbles on the other side of the road.

Nice IV (Ok, Monte Carlo really)

To access the principality of Monte Carlo from the train station involves a two hundred meter walk through a tunnel clad entirely in Italian marble. It’s as though the intimidation of wealth begins before you turn a corner.

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What strikes you first is the paucity of civil infrastructure, i.e. hospitals or schools or council buildings – I didn’t spot one. The only structures that Monte Carlo has room for are apartments. Squeezed around the marina or up on the hills, hundreds of little boxes all crammed together, bunched up in their desperation to avoid unpleasant things like common people, society and worst of all – taxes.

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There is actually a hospital in Monaco, The Princess Grace. Boasting a generous 120 beds, this particular infirmary specialises in free medical care for the poor, the disenfranchised and the terminally ill. Don’t believe me? Ok, you’re right, it doesn’t do any such thing. Anyway, let’s not concern ourselves with people who are sick, let’s go and have a gawp at the boats instead.

I once took a trip on a motor yacht. A friend of a friend hired one to show off to his mates. I remember the excitement as we cruised out of the bay and headed out onto the open sea. We marvelled at deep blue of the Med and the fresh bracing air.
After about half an hour I was of course, bored to death. The endless chugging along to nowhere in particular, the faint sickly stench of diesel fuel and the nausea of the rolling swell made for a tedious, ultimately pointless trip. Don’t get me wrong, the teak poop deck (or whatever it’s called) was very nice and the chandelier was pretty, and they don’t call them gin palaces for nothing. But if you want to get pissed and talk shit it’s easier and cheaper to stroll down to your nearest Yate’s Wine Lodge.

What do you mean ostentatious?

What do you mean ostentatious?

So the demographic of the boat owners in Monaco is Oil-rich Arabs, go-getting Captains of Industry desperate to preserve their hard-earned wealth and eighties pop stars. If you are one of those types, Monte Carlo is the place for you.

We decided to have a relaxing lunch quayside. Sarah perused the menus of the various eateries located around the marina.
“How about this one dear?” I asked.
“Hmm, it’s a bit pricey. And the one next door is too.”
“Sarah darling, we are in Monte Carlo, they’re all pricey.”
“Good point.”
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And so we settled down to a plate of pasta, a glass of grog and watched the world go by. The boats themselves were all a hive of activity, cleaners, chefs, people wearing deck shoes, stern oriental types dressed in white, tanned gorgeous people sporting ray bans, all scurrying up and down gang planks looking busy and serious.

The only thing missing were the owners. They are probably as disinterested in sailing as me, it’s just that they bought one because, well, they just can.

And if tedium takes hold, they could always go to the Casino to throw their money away.

It's the laughing gnome!

It’s the laughing gnome!

After lunch it was time to jump back on the train and journey over the border to Italy.

The man who broke the bank.......

The man who broke the bank…….


It was then, just before we left, that I met one- an owner that is. Deciding to take one last stroll down the dockside, we paused in front of a particularly large specimen. A sleek beauty, gleaming in white and chrome, becalmed in its bay with the sparkle of the sea reflecting on its pristine hull; she was indeed an impressive craft. I stopped next to a squat little man with slicked back silver hair and the usual deep perma tan worn mainly by the super rich and hoboes.

His teeth – white as the boat he was stood next to gleamed at me as he smiled his “Please ask me if this is my boat” smile.

Too impatient to wait for my inquiry, he announced in a grating Texan drawl, “She’s a beauty, huh?”
I turned to him and smiled back.
“She certainly is, is it yours?”

The little fat man seemed to grow an inch as he replied, “You betcha buddy.”

“Yes it’s very nice, there’s only one thing wrong with it old chap.”

The American’s face fell as he spun round to scan the haunches of his pride and joy for blemishes.
“Why? What’s wrong with it?”
“Well it’s just that White is the wrong colour, if it was mine, I’d have painted it blue.”

And so we left the little chap steaming on the quay, as we bid adieu to the ostentatious excess of Monaco and made our way to Italy.

Nice II

What differentiates Britain from Europe? Is it the culture? The climate? The conversation? Possibly. Here’s one – passport control. After your trip to sunnier, more pleasant climes, compare the stress of re-gaining entry back into Blighty with strolling into France, Spain, Greece or Italy?

We joined the queue at Nice airport with our IDs open at head height like a pair of wannabe Special Branch cops about to barge into a Drug Baron’s mansion. We approached the booth, in which sat an unshaved swarthy looking policeman slouched at his tiny desk wearing a powder blue short sleeved shirt. Gold epaulettes signified his status as a lawman (the other giveaway being the granite like shine of his Beretta connected to his belt by a curly wire). After a few seconds in the swiftly moving line-up, it was our turn to gain entry to his homeland, La Belle France. Sarah whipped off my cap,

“He can’t see your face properly, he might think you’re a terrorist.”
“What, in these shorts?”
Cap doffed, I prepared for entry. The guard looked up at me while his head remained absolutely still. He glanced at my passport for a tenth of a second, glanced at my face for another tenth, then indicated that I had passed all the stringent, post 9/11 security measures by grunting and lifting his left eyebrow.

That was it, we were in.
Travelling light with our little suitcases on wheels, we made for the automatic doors and the familiar waft of exhaled cigarette smoke from the taxi rank outside.
It was time to practice my pidgin French.

Nous sommes en vacance et nous voudrons aux Hotel Windsor?”
The driver nodded, then replied in his superfast indecipherable mother tongue.
“Er… pardon?”
“Tom, just show him the voucher with the hotel’s name on and let’s just get there, please.”
Our driver nodded and eased his brand new Mercedes into the traffic.
The short journey to the centre of nice is negotiated along a four mile stretch of the Promenade des Anglais, a road typified by the palm trees that line the central reservation. We were in fast-moving nose to tail traffic as the broad sweep of the Nice sea front came into view. I let down the window, allowing the noise of the city and smell of the sea into the cab. Then we passed the biggest casino in Nice.

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“Tom, can we go in there one night?”
“Of course, but you wont like it.”
“Why?”
“You”ll see.”

A few hundred yards further on the cab swung violently to the left as our driver gunned the engine and the Mercedes growled at an unnecessary rate of knots towards our hotel – The Windsor.
Recently updated in a quirky artistic theme, each room has been styled individually by a range of different artists.

http://www.hotelwindsornice.com/lhotel-2/chambres-dartiste/

Our chambre was a compact square, the highlight of which were dozens of red beaded necklaces draped from the ceiling, as though a hundred grand-dames had been kidnapped and their jewellery hung up as trophies.

But my favourite is the lift, which announces its journey to ones floor with a recording of a rocket launch from Cape Canaveral circa 1972. we heard that tape at least 4 times a day and never tired of it.

Changed and refreshed, it was time to venture onto the streets and seek out dinner.

Two things typify Nice. The first are the scooters. Everyone has a scooter, they buzz around you like angry mechanical gadflies weaving insouciantly in and amongst the traffic. The second are the restaurants. There are restaurants everywhere. They hang around street corners, they wedge themselves up against each other in the middle of streets.

They fight for space on the promenade des Anglais. Trying to chose one is like trying to choose a diamond ring out of a tray of thousands.
Eventually we a chose a stylish-looking eatery just off the main drag. Of course it was packed. I pushed thought the sealed double glass doors to be greeted by a slim waitress ( is there any other kind in France ?) who through her gallic shuteye deduced that we had rocked up at her gaff sans reservation.

She squeezed us in under the stairs and swivelled a blackboard around to face us, on which was offered a thin selection of plates.
I plumped for the salmon fishcakes and Sarah chomped on scallops. Just delightful.

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I was struck by the volume and intensity of our fellow diner’s conversations. Everyone was talking. Of course, people talk in restaurants but the volume and intensity is often dictated by the poshness of the eatery. A quiet piano bar in London doesn’t have the same noise levels as a trendy American-themed diner in Shoreditch but in France, no matter if you are in a tiny cafe or a plush hotel, everyone chatters, everyone gossips.

We meandered back out onto the streets of Nice and decided to walk back to our hotel. We could have been in the nicest part of town or the roughest. But no matter where we were, we felt safe. Apart from the cacophony of the perma buzz of scooters, the streets were quiet.

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Tomorrow was going to be a day to explore. Tomorrow we planned the promenade, the beach and the train to Monte Carlo.

Nice

The Story of Our Five Days in Nice (France).

We flew to the South of France on an Easyjet Boeing 737. The desperate shuffling of passengers to get to the front as the ground staff announce the start of boarding has always baffled me. I think it’s the English urge to get “settled”. Why rush to get on? They wont leave without you.

Anyway, after shouting at Sarah to hurry, I was pleased to find us at the front of the queue (Well, I like to get comfy you see).

Our seats were at the rear of the plane. I read somewhere that the back of an aircraft was the safest place to be (apparently, planes don’t reverse into mountains).
As our fellow travellers boarded, my breathing became shallower, my hands felt clammy, my heart began to race. But it wasn’t the terror of being entombed in a silver tube burning gallons of kerosene in an illogical attempt to defy gravity, rather it was the fear of my ultimate flying phobia – a brat in the seat behind me.

Sarah was settled in next to me debating which variety of microwaved toasty she would like to scald her mouth on as I fidgeted and craned my neck to scan for the dreaded infant. She bid me to remain still.
“Tom, just relax. We will be off in a minute.”
“Look, there’s one coming now, it’s getting nearer.”
“Tom, just calm down, they look a perfectly nice family.”
“The parents seem ok, it’s the red faced urchin I don’t like the look of.”
The smiling thirty-somethings parents scanned the row numbers as they squeezed themselves inexorably nearer. Twenty eight, twenty nine….thirty two, thirty….three – there, perfect. And where do you think they ended up? You know it sister.

The smiling cabin crew snapped the overheads shut and fussed everyone into their places as the Irish burr of the pilot reassuringly purred our route over the PA system.

I closed my eyes. Maybe the kid with the E numbers smeared over his sticky intemperate mush would be perfectly behaved, maybe he would just nod off in his mummy’s arms? What did it matter that he was directly behind my head? The flight was short, it didn’t – thump! Oh god, we hadn’t even taken off and it had started. Thump!

It isn’t the actual kick that drives you insane, it’s the anticipation of the tiny toes tapping the back of your seat that’s unbearable.
“Tom, just ignore it, we’ll be there before you know it, read your guide to Nice.”
“I am trying to ignore it (thump), but it’s not easy when you’ve got parents who can’t control their bloody kids (thump).”
“Tom! shush, they’ll hear you!”
“Good! “(thump).
As the big tin bird eased herself into the stratosphere, the blonde terror behind succumbed to fatigue and fell into a fitful slumber. I closed my eyes and tried to sleep. Unfortunately, the racket from the fat lady to my left shattered my attempted cat nap. Her vast paw swirled inside her plastic cashew tub, like Trevor Brooking choosing the FA Cup quarter finalists.

After a moment or two, the pasty white claw pulled another catch of nuts out of the tub, her elbows nudging me with each swirl like a JCB digger excavating a drain. The chubby old dear then daintily threw them into her pie hole with the skill of a serial grazer. This might not have been so bad if she hadn’t been forced by some unknown sinus condition to to breath exclusively through her mouth.
This dual use of her gob meant her mastications were amplified by fifty percent.
I leaned over to Sarah and whispered
“Do you think she’s coming to Nice to sample the gastronomy?”
“Shush Tom, she’ll hear you.”
“Good!” (Nudge)
To make a point I put my fingers dramatically in my ears . Sarah dragged them back out.

Then thankfully, my ears did some popping as our pilot pointed the nose towards the Med and we began our descent. The aircraft banked steeply to the left and, just above stalling speed dropped altitude in ever greater increments until tarmac began rushing past my window.
Do you hold your breath just before the undercarriage smacks onto the blackstuff? There is always that two second moment when I think – is he going to make it? then there is the bang! another smaller bump then a final little skip before the anti locks and reverse thrust decelerate us into taxi speed. And there we were – Nice.
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Honeymoon III

Back in our suite at Bailbrook Manor, I was in my usual deep depression after gawping through the estate agent’s window. “Fuck, I’ll never afford a house like those ones. Why didn’t I buy in Bath or London twenty years ago?”
“Because you lived in St. Helens and wanted to be near your mum?”
Sarah has a cruel tongue sometimes. So onto trip advisor to find a place to eat dinner. I don’t trust a lot of the reviews on that app, what is to stop an owner getting his mates to post loads of blag comments just to get to the top of the pile?
It does provide some laughs though, especially when a restaurant fights back and goes online to tell the punter that he is a pleb who wouldn’t understand fine dining if it smacked him in the face. I hate consumer power. Dull eyed stroppy middle Englanders demanding excellence on the cheap. If I was a restaurateur I’d tell them all where to go. There’s your omelette and chips. If it’s five star service you’re after do me a favour and fuck off to Claridges. What do you want for six pounds fifty anyway ?

We settled on Gascoynes Place.

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The reviews didn’t look like they’d been churned out by a Chinese Spam factory (like the feedback you see on eBay about Beijing Wedding frocks) and it didn’t seem too pricey so we booked for 8pm.
A stripped down, informal interior design. Green tiles, dark wooden floors leading to a cosy bar area offering a varied selection of beers. Strangely for Bath, all the staff were English and local. The barman pulled off a gill of the local tipple for me to sample, a nice friendly touch.
As someone happy to eavesdrop on the private conversations of strangers, my ear was drawn to the two guys swapping banter on the bar stools opposite.

Marty chatting.

Marty chatting.

One of them, a thirty something Londoner, was attempting to perform a card trick whilst simultaneously injecting into his patter tiresome boasts about how much he made a year (£250,000 apparently. Interested to hear more? No, thought not).
The other guy had shoulder length curls and the look of someone who was forcing himself to listen, as though some weird social convention obliged him to pay attention until the dreary soliloquy ran into the sand – a bit like a Minor Royal opening a hospital wing.
I whispered to Sarah,”See the guy with the Robert Plant hair? Bet he’s the owner.”
And so it came to pass that Marty (he with the flowing auburn locks) was indeed our host. Gently untangling himself from the crushingly dull Paul Daniels/Gordon Gekko performance, he gravitated towards us, where yours truly, with my nosey gitometer set to a healthy seven, mined him for his life story.

Before Marty owned restaurants he was an acrobat. He toured all over the world until his back went and he sunk his money into this place in Bath.
He had big plans for it, including an expansion over the road. He prepared a maximum of 134 plates of food a night and declined anyone who turned up asking for the 135th. Quality over quantity.

Having worked up an appetite, I plumped for the ricotta and toast to start followed by the venison ( which wasn’t dear. Well, it was but it wasn’t, oh you know what I mean).

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To the untrained eye, the starter looked like a dessert. Just the right side of sickly, I luxuriated in the decadence of the presentation.
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Wary of my previously tough experiences with game, I expected my molars to have something to chew over. Pleasingly tender, the meat was as it should be, aromatic and pleasingly dense.
After dinner, Marty reappeared to demonstrate the ancient art of name dropping – which turned out to be a gentler version of the taxi drivers’ “I ‘ad that so and so in the back of my cab last night.”

I suppose boasting about his clientele was one of the benefits of owning a classy joint in a desirable location. Then I told him we found his restaurant on Trip Advisor.

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“Oh that thing? Most of the reviews are manufactured by Spam engines.”
We taxied back to our hotel and drifted off under the super soft uber cosy duvet.

In the morning we paid up, said goodbye to the international committee on reception and left the Bailbrook .

I scrubbed off the just married sign on the car and in its place wrote – still married!
Maybe there’s a gap in the market for signs saying just that. Now, how does one go about setting up an eBay shop…..

Corfu V

Our next adventure with Rocinante involved us taking the her over the hills of the middle of Corfu and up the east coast. After promising Sarah that there would be no boats or two wheeled hairpin turns, we buckled up to explore the northern end of the island.
The Eskimos have twenty seven different words for snow the Corfu Greeks should have many more words for green. There are the greens of the sea, the greens of the, valleys and the greens of the mountains. The steep hillsides are covered by CinemaScope Cypress trees that poke up into the humid air. Along side them are the pines of a darker hue, then there are the Eucalyptus, the Fig, the Oak and the Carab, all competing for space on the tight gradients. As a result, and despite the heat the air is fresh and clear. It was as though we were surrounded by oxygen factories, with a thousand green chimneys belching out tons of O2.

Descending from the hills we reached a long thin strip of road with bars and restaurants on one side and a long tape of scruffy beach on the other. Bathers shuffled uncomfortably under sunshades trying to get comfy on shingly patches of sand. Sarah asked if I wanted to stop. I dithered for a moment until we reached the end of town where we came upon a watering hole named Dirty Nellies. I clicked my tongue, dug my spurs into her metal, whereupon Rocinante bucked, panicked and took flight.
We reached Kassiopi at noon. Where Ipsos is a gaudy ingot of tat, Kassiopi is a smart little marina full of medium sized yachts and motor boats. We parked Rocinante and settled under a wide awning to refresh ourselves with coffee.
The younger crowd of Ipsos was replaced by an entirely different demographic. The profile of the holidaymaker in this tiny port was so different from the raucous young crowd of the previous resort that a Martian landing in Kassiopi might think some unseen hand had imposed a kind of English ethnic cleansing.
Kassiopi was full of English. But not just any random Brit. It was full of Middle class English families from London and the Home Counties. Wherever I looked, I could see identikit solicitor types and PR Execs sat around mumbling to each other.
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The chaps – Deck shoes, hooped jerseys, ray bans, tight jaw lines honed on the squash court. The Ladies – white linen trousers , Pastel striped shirts, pale boat shoes, massive designer handbags. I looked at the bags. Sarah cooed over names that meant nothing to me. I was about to embark upon an extended diatribe castigating these women for falling foul of some cynical marketing ploy when I was upbraided by my betrothed.
“Tom, you slagged off the chavs in the last place, who are on holiday just like you, now you’re having a go at these perfectly normal people. No one can win, you’re just a massive inverted snob!”
I examined the bottom of my cappuccino cup. Sarah stared out to sea. It was time to knot my hanky and head for the beach.

Round the corner up a one way road lined by strange Narnia-like lamp posts was a small shingle beach shaded by trees.
A charming deck chair attendant with an ochre face and long legs arranged our sun loungers along the back of the little cove.
This was surely one of the prettiest pebble beaches I had ever staggered along. The different sizes of pebble drained your energy as you slipped and skidded towards the Tiffany blue water.
We hopped and danced into the surf. As the sea bore me up, the smooth stones brushed my feet as I began to paddle in one of those aimless semi circles you do when you have neither the ability nor the inclination to set course for a specific destination. Stood in shoulder height water I considered the Albanian coastline on the near horizon. Grim brown blasted heaths loomed out of the mist. Whereas northern Corfu was apparently green and pleasant enough for Middle England, Albania’s topography looked as austere as its economy.
As gravity took over from the buoyancy of seawater I began dancing over the cold stones as they dug into my soles. I staggered back to my damp sandals, turning back to gaze at the horizon. The deck chair guy saw me considering his near neighbour. I mentioned the distance.
“Albania is closer than you think, isn’t it?” I said.
“Too close my friend.
“Do they try to sail over?”
“They don’t sail over here my friend.”
“Really! You would have thought they would at least try to come over here.”
“Oh they do. But they don’t sail, they swim.”
“They swim over ?
“Yes, then we catch them and send them back. Then the game starts all over again.”
I thought of the Berlin Wall, the TexMex border, Sangatte. And those Albanians trying to grab their own little bit of paradise.
Even with my rubbish paddling, if Corfu was the prize, I think even I would swallow my pride and attempt the crossing.
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Corfu IV

Some of the most beautiful beaches on the west coast of Corfu can only be accessed by boat. Tiny patches of yellow hidden at the bottom of towering grey and white cliffs, they offer peace and relaxation for those willing to seek them out.
We drove to Paleokastritsa, a pretty coastal resort and hub of the bays that we wanted to visit.
We needed to hire a boat and go exploring. It didn’t matter that the last time I captained a ship was thirty years ago, I hadn’t lost it I told myself, it’s just like riding a bike.
“Tom, before you go over to that beach hut and hire a boat, can you explain to me exactly what you captained all those years ago?
“A twin out board thirty foot power cruiser, she was a beauty. Two hundred horses, thirty knots top speed.
Sarah couldn’t failed to be impressed. The brown faced kid took my money and in no time we were on the jetty staring at an eight man power boat, the open sea ahead of us.
“Thees eyes the most powerful boat we av. It is eezee to spin so be careful. And do not drop the anchor in rocks because wee will av to come out to get you back to port.”
I laughed and shook my head. “That, will not be happening my friend.”
Out of the port we chugged. Past the yachts and dinghies we cruised, out into the deep royal blue sea. We were in a wide open inlet, on one side Corfu, on the other, the vast sea and beyond that, Italy. On the horizon lay little coves in a pretty semi circle, inviting to be visited, like tiny nirvanas of beauty.

I was at the wheel and all was well. I told everyone to hang on as I pushed the lever to put us up to near full speed. The spray hit the girls as I increased the power.
The prow lifted as we started to skim the waves. The wind got up and white gobs of surf started to soak us as I made for a beach. Sarah seemed to relax as we came towards our first destination.

I eased the power down and hit my first problem. How do you stop this bloody thing?
I looked over the side. There was no sand to be seen on the sea bed, all I could detect were rocks. We drifted nearer and nearer to some stern looking Germans, moored near the shore in a pocket battle ship. They glared over, clearly unhappy with our position.
We were going to hit them, no question. And from the brightly painted livery of his craft it was obvious that his ship wasn’t hired, it was his pride and joy.
The bathers on shore stated to look up as we floated nearer and nearer to the beach and the Germans.
The words from the hire guy rang I my ears.
“What ever you do sir do not beach the boat pleeze.”
There was no option, I had to slam on the anchors, literally. Over the side the three pronged iron claw flew, closely followed by the rope that burned my fingers as it slid over the side. I cursed myself for not paying more attention to Richard Dreyfus on board the Orca.
The anchor dragged some purchase off the sea bed and we stopped, uncomfortably close to the Graf Spee.
He smiled a cold smile as we bobbed into his personal boat space. Sarah examined my hand. The burn mark was nasty.
“Even I know to let go of the rope Tom, haven’t you seen Jaws?
“Please be quiet, I know what I am doing
“But those Germans in that boat don’t look happy. Come on, let’s move nearer to the shore. Pull up the anchor.
Just as I did exactly that the German boat bumped against mine. He pushed us away and flicked his hands in an entreaty for us to bugger off. He had a point, the was more than enough sea to go round after all.
I pulled at the rope. It went tight and we moved away. Then my arms came nearly out of my sockets as the boat came to a dead stop.
I might as well have been trying to pull Excalibur out of the stone. The rope was going nowhere and neither we we . We were stuck .
Disgusted, the Germans moved away. Now we bobbed around like the proverbial cork as Captain Pugwash, aka yours truly tugged and heaved at the blasted hemp.
Sarah had her head in her hands as the girls giggled and donned their snorkels. They flopped overboard to examine he problem.
After a few seconds the surfaced and breathlessly reported back to their captain.
“Tom, it’s really really deep! About twenty foot down.
“Yes but is it stuck?
“Oh god yeah it’s stuck under a massive boulder, you’ll never shift it!
This news seemed to delight them even more
“Are we shipwrecked mum? Awesome.
Sarah took her sunglasses off and rubbed the bridge of the nose.
“Tom, will you please stop tugging on that rope? You’re going to put you back out.
“I’ll ring the boat guys they come out and move us
“No! It’s embarrassing
“I’ve got an idea, why don’t I throw it into reverse ?
“Reverse? It’s not a Ford Mondeo, it’s a speed boat for god’s sake. Listen, you know this thirty foot boat you captained, where did you sail it .
“Taylor park”
“Taylor park boating lake?”
“Yeah.”
“But you said it was a thirty footer?”
“Equivalent scale, yes.”
“What you mean equivalent scale? Don’t tell me, it wasn’t a –
“A Model yes but it’s the same thing, you still have to know what you’re doing, haven’t you seen Hardy Kruger in Flight of the Phoenix?
“Tom you are so full of bull…”

And With that, our saviour arrived. A teenage Greek boy with what seemed like webbed feet swam up and asked if we were stuck?
“Yes!” We shouted in unison. He nodded, took two deep breaths and dissapeared into a scattering of bubbles.
Hannah stuck her head under to observe.
After twenty seconds he was still down there. She surfaced
“Wow, he’s gone right to the bottom!,

Eventually he emerged, his head thrown backwards so that his mouth was the first part of his body to surface, like a salmon snapping at a gadfly. As he took in a gasp of air and smiled at us, I thought of how his lungs must have been burning up. Even the thought of attempting such a dive panicked me, the pressure of the tons of sea water above squeezing my eardrums, the water turning from warm to icy cold.
But to this boy, showing off in front of us and his pals, that scrape with death was an everyday event. Plunging into the turquoise clear sea and free diving twenty feet was as normal to him as skateboarding under the multi story was to the kids in my hometown.

In any case, finally we were released from our unwelcome tethering . Checking for bathers around us, I clicked the engine into reverse and the outboard gurgled into life, churning up water into a fury of boiling white bubbles. In a desperate attempt to reassert my salty sea dog masculinity, I set my jaw to chisel mode and grim faced, pushed the lever up to set course for shore. The bow lifted and we bounced forward, the sea turning from the pale of the shore to the deep azure of the open sea.
Round the bay we sailed, laughing at the incongruous sight of a pen pusher from Liverpool guiding his family home after their epic odyssey.
We chugged into port, our faces stinging from the salty sea air. I had done it, I had brought us home safely. I slipped her into neutral, calmed her beating heart as I eased her into her berth. Our harbour master grinned and asked how it had been. I assured him that for an experienced sailor such as myself it was a walk in the park. Ignoring Sarah’s hissed aside that my walk in the park usually ended up at the boating lake, I shook his hand and bid him farewell.
It was time to drive over the mountains and go home. Emboldened by my mastery of the open seas, I decided to examine the capabilities of our jeep, who I had christened Rocinanti. I slotted the smaller of the two gear sticks forward, putting her undercarriage into four wheel drive.
Rocinante

“Tom, why are you fiddling with that little stick?
“Right Sarah, let’s see what this baby can do.”
Sarah, bedraggled by her nautical journey, appealed for calm. Not a bit of it, those hairpins where just screaming at Rocinanti’s tyres to squeal
But there was only one lady squealing as we snaked up the hills back to Agios Gordios.
“Tom, will you please slow down? You’re not clever. Tom! Look at the drop ? Please! And why are you singing that stupid song ?
http://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CAsQtwIwAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DrXUQlmO-L8s%26autoplay%3D1&ei=shLnU_PqFoWR7Aa0xIGADg&usg=AFQjCNFWeWYbXyU_XaZyn8tHXoHpfbfOnw&sig2=3ZTkJ1YheQTQdffJ9tKKCw

Good job James wasn’t on board

http://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=10&ved=0CDoQtwIwCQ&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3D1PrhC_l7RPo%26autoplay%3D1&ei=oEfnU56tHqad0QW-5oHQBg&usg=AFQjCNGc1kZX44KAdg5noX084iXJem7mfw&sig2=2INhtIgfUi_NbbEZrStB-w