For several months now I have been thinking about the island of Kefalonia, our first destination on the western edge of Greece. Having never been before, I have been exploring sections of the island in detail, zooming deep into online maps to study the terrain and the locations of the places we plan to stay. I have read the relevant sections of Lonely Planet’s guide, Google-searched for images of the island and spent a considerable amount of time simply imagining what the experience of being there will be like.
A year ago we were on another Greek island, Samothraki, on the opposite side of Greece, near the top of the Aegean Sea. Recalling the Greek holiday experience there is always easy and delightful. It was a beautiful and very natural place, small but mountainous, and surprisingly untainted by tourism. The memories I have of Samothraki have fuelled my imagination for Kefalonia and our travels across the Greek mainland towards Turkey.
Everything I know about Turkey has come to me fairly recently and mainly through books, documentaries and recent news articles. I know a bit of history and little of the current politics but no experience of the country or its culture. I have the Lonely Planet guide, but so far have barely glanced at it. For me, Turkey will be the biggest leap into the unknown on this trip and a well of excitement is slowly building in my thoughts, in anticipation of going there.
From Istanbul, we fly to Tel Aviv and make our way into the West Bank of the Palestinian Territories to begin an eleven-day work retreat picking olives. Our last visit to this region was in May, when we stayed for nearly a week in the old city of Jerusalem. It is an intense and complicated part of the world, fraught with rivalry and oppression but also diversity and contradiction. Since May, I have had a lingering fascination with it and a strong desire to return. Besides olive picking, we plan to travel to other parts of Palestine and Israel, including the Dead Sea, towns like Nablus and Bethlehem and perhaps a return to Jerusalem.
In a few days time we will fly direct from Gatwick to Kefalonia. After spending a week on a yoga retreat and a few days exploring the island we will catch a ferry to the Greek mainland. From there we will make our way by bus to Thessaloniki where we plan to stay at least a few days, maybe longer, before heading into Turkey and arriving at its capital, Istanbul. We have a flight already booked from Istanbul to Tel Aviv on 8th October, but our travel plans between Kefalonia and Istanbul are rather undecided. This gives us a certain degree of freedom in deciding how long we remain in a particular place and what we devote our time and energy into doing. Soon after arriving in Tel Aviv we have a few days to acclimatise before beginning the olive picking retreat at a village in the West Bank. When completed, we will have a little over a week to travel around other parts of Palestine and Israel before our flight back to the UK on 2nd November.
In these final days before departure we have been busy with seemingly endless preparations, gradually making our way through a long to-do list. Clare has been particularly busy on paperwork related to her apartment which she will be renting out over the coming year. Apart from deciding on what gear to take on the trip, we also had to decide on the gear we would need when we return and what we might expect to require over the coming year. This had to be put into storage and everything else in the apartment other than the main furniture items had to be packed up and stowed away.
The excitement is certainly building now. For the first time in my teaching career, instead of returning to work after the summer holidays, I will be embarking on a much bigger holiday. I spare a thought for my teaching colleagues who will soon be bracing themselves for the inevitable return of a new school year. Fortunately, I won’t be joining them, not this year.