Girlie holidays were not only mandatory in my early twenties but they were also a much needed medicine; a tonic to gulp heartily after a break up, a tense year of study or as a prerequisite for my quest for sunshine.
Endless hours filled with researching, comparing, asking, haggling and finally, after booking, anticipating. The present day lost its value in the fervent wait of the future; nights out were drained of their appeal, standing for nothing but squandered money that could be better spent on our holiday. Summer wardrobes were thought about well in advance, our pale skins growing darker in front of our very eyes, the visual of the sun drenched versions of ourselves taking precedent over anything else. And then, early airport drives and surreal aeroplane conversations later, we found ourselves in our chosen exotic place. Rising earlier than we ever would have in London, racing ourselves to the beach, worshipping the sun, sky and waves. We’d stay there until sun set, marvelling at the different shade the dusk made our skin. The face loving light of twilight. We loved it.
And for a long time, that’s what holidays meant to me. I associated them with friends, beaches and nightclubs. So when a decade later, I found myself on an aeroplane about to embark on a ten day break alone on the romantic island of Santorini, my excitement matched my fear.
Was ten days too long? Would I feel completely isolated? Beyond this, would I even be safe? Three and a half hours and a Caldera view later, my worries were burnt to nothing by the brightest sunset I had ever seen. I soon found my routine within no routine. Sleeping for as long as I wanted, eating a daily breakfast of bread dipped in honey, taking hour long hot showers and dressing at my leisure. When I left my hotel suite for the day, I often had no idea where I was going, deciding only when I reached the bus station. I slept on a beach of black volcanic sand, read until sunset and wrote. When I met a local village boy, there was no guilt attached to my spending time with him and I spent an afternoon on the back of his of moped, zooming past vineyards and mountains; the island an open air museum. Even a simple green hill offered romance and we sat overlooking the Aegean as he filled a city girl mind with the ways of small island life.
He told me that when it rained, the mountain changed colour, proving that even things that can’t move have their own way of evolving. We kissed goodbye and I never saw him again after that lazy day, but I carefully folded the memory away for when I would need it again.
The days stretched into one long moment and I soon forgot which day it actually was. Clocks and watches lost their role as I woke when rested, ate when hungry and slept when tired. Sure, it was weird at first asking for a ‘table for one’ and I can’t pretend I didn’t crave the comfortable chatter of other adults, but being alone forced me to spark up a conversation with people I would have ordinarily dismissed when in the comfort zone of my friendship. I listened to taxi drivers who regaled me with stories about the local area, found out about the lives of people from the other side of the world and I walked for hours, popping into quaint shops and spotting a donkey or two on my travels.
I left in the middle of the night, hoping the island would forgive me for going. As the plane touched on home land, I felt with it an empowerment that came from giving myself a great opportunity. I knew I would always love the bonding that came with holidaying with friends but in the end, it was important to know I could go it alone sometimes too.
I felt different after and trying to live the same life on my return was weird. The grey pavements bored me and the red bricked houses seemed to block something. But within time and as expected, reality won the race and I grew used to my surroundings again. I suppose they were here first. I could only take what I had learnt about myself and add it to my way of living.
There was nothing else left to do other than to keep dipping my bread into honey because in one way or another, it had rained and I’d changed colour.