HOLIDAY DISASTERS

Julia Bueno found the ferry journey to her romantic Greek island just a shade too relaxing

One of the many problems I have with cheap flights to Athens is their time of arrival - there is always an interminably long gap between bumpy touchdown and the departure of the ferries taking you to where your holiday begins. I've done it many times and am aware of the purgatory involved at the docks (no sleep, smells, hairy spitting men etc). Last summer I handled this particular purgatory by actually looking forward to my nine-hour journey - it would give me the opportunity to sunbathe and nap so I would arrive sun-kissed, radiant and ravishing. This would put a sure seal on my new relationship with the man I was setting off to meet.

The ferry turned out to have no outdoor space. I had visions of having to make do with mere make-up, when I spotted some steps to sunlight cordoned off by a sign in silly lettering. Despite many hisses from the hairy men when I ventured near my route to beauty, I managed to seize the moment when one of them produced a pack of cards and distracted his companions. I clambered skywards with my handbag. Being the organised (some would say anal) traveller that I am, I had put on my bikini underneath my dress, so it was a question of peeling it off, making a pillow out of it and kicking back with Neil Diamond.

I am a notoriously bad sleeper. Sleep clinics could run successful seminars on my ability to wake with a start at the sound of a feather being dropped in the next street. This special talent left me that particular day, and when I woke (feeling crusty), the sun was cunningly low. I vaguely remembered some noise and hooting during my "brief rest" and then the penny dropped - I had missed my stop.

Despite my newly developed pink crust, I managed to leap up so quickly that my dress/pillow flew behind me and into the winds of the Aegean. I calmed myself down with the thought that the colour didn't suit me anyway. I had plenty more garments in my suitcase beneath me, amongst the hairy men. Or so I thought. When I sneaked down to retrieve it, someone had made it invisible. After two seconds of yoga breathing, I used my best Greek to find out where we were heading. "Somethingos" was still far away which meant that, to the fascination of the hairy men and some baskets of fish, I had to sit anxiously fighting back tears and nearly naked for the journey to end.

Three-and-a-half months later we arrived. It was dark and I was losing industrial quantities of heat from my crust. I scanned the port for someone not dressed in a long black dress, who could, perhaps, restrain their mirth and help me. My knight in shining armour turned out to be a grumpy, tortured artist who had lived on the island for a number of years.

His boundless generosity consisted of handing me a copy of the ferry timetable and sloping off to his easel in the hills. Of course, this schedule proved academic because the ferry operators were on strike.

The net result of this fiasco was three days and three nights alone, fuelled by retsina, and dressed in the bikini (or a nylon number acquired from the only shop), negotiating with a hairy policeman for a stolen luggage report. When I eventually made it to meet my man, he'd taken a shine to Stella, the island beauty, and the last thing I heard he's returning to see her this summer.

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