This piece is about a recent experience – arriving at Limnisa, a beautiful house in a remote area of Greece – that hosts writing retreats, and where I went to get some work done on my second novel. Hope you enjoy.
I was so sure when I googled ‘writers retreat greece’ and Limnisa popped up that it was the place for me and I’m glad I had that certainty because I arrived at Limnisa in the dark and I am afraid of the dark.
I was excited about the travelling – from Anguilla to Methana, Greece, but then I had a panic attack. It started in Curacao where my journey was delayed for 24 hours. I understand why I have them, but they are still unpleasant to experience. Panic attacks are an occasional part of my life. Luckily, they normally happen to me when the ‘next big thing’ is looming so there is a good side to the bad.
In this case, the stresses of life, (yes there are still stresses in life when you live in the Caribbean) and the guilt I felt for taking time out of it, coupled with a very long, complicated and expensive journey that became even more complicated and expensive (I don’t deal well with my carefully laid plans being changed) brought on the panic attack and it stayed with me from Curacao to Amsterdam.
But, oh, the relief when I boarded my Aegean Air flight to Athens and it departed on time. How sentimental I felt when I heard Greek spoken for the first time in ages, bringing sweet memories, such a rush of emotion I cried. The admiration I felt for the air hostesses whose dark beauty could belong to no other nation. The excitement of looking out of the window, recalling maps and realizing that we were flying above and to left of where I was going, sure that I could see Poros, Galletas, and the road along the Peloponnese to Limnisa. The ease of arrival (I love the European union) and the happiness I felt when I spotted the sign, Trudy Nixon – Limnisa – and got into a taxi with Yiannis, the Greekest looking man I could hope for and his son Nicholas, the reluctant translator. The comfort of the seat, the initial pleasure of the ride, of seeing the Corinthian canal and leaving the motorway to travel on a country road that reminded me of Scotland, and then the increasing discomfort and hysteria as (I thought), I neared the house only to find there was yet another bend to go around or hill to climb. Sensing great beauty and wishing so badly that I was driving in daytime, not through the dark rainy night. Passing through 3 or 4 villages and in those we saw no life and no lights. Saddened that every road sign along the deserted way had graffiti – the number 13 – which Nicholas said was the mark of ‘extreme fans’ of football. Noticing a thin trench along the side of the road, that ran for miles and miles, bringing the fiber optics that bring bigger bytes of data and I realized that tiny Anguilla is much better connected than this land mass, central to the development of civilization, a mere 2 and a half hours away from the most important city in history.
The excitement of finally reaching Methana extinguished by the feeling it was a ghost town that stunk of sulpher. Driving through we past mainly empty tavernas that I didn’t want to stop at – despite golden lights and the promise of a much wanted beer, glad I didn’t book extra days in Methana, then feeling doubly glad when I spotted a large seafront hotel which looked grand but was decayed and deserted. Later, Mariel explained that after ‘The Crisis’ the old people, who came in droves from Athens to Methana to use the hot springs, stopped coming because they could no longer afford it.
Exiting the town and I recalled from the satellite view that we still had quite a way to go, finding the journey from Methana to Agios Georgios very long, despite laughing hysterically with Yiannis who kept catching my eye mischievously – unable to speak to each other, but understanding each other perfectly – knowing, that we both knew , that this was one crazy journey and I was one crazy lady to be doing it.
Entering Agios Georgios, and spotting the tavern and the church I had also seen on Google, following the road out of the village which just kept on going until suddenly we stopped in the darkness. Panicking for an instant. Was I wrong about Yiannis and Nicholas? They seemed so nice but maybe they were a father and son serial killing duo. It was pitch black. We’d stopped but there was no house. We stopped on the side of the road and he smiled and said Limnisa but I couldn’t see anything. I looked right and down out of the window and saw a tired, white face, a lady like a ghost below me, coming up a steep hill. Must be Mariel. Bemused I paid Yiannis and gave a tip to the reluctant Nicholas for his translation services.
What next? I was stumped. There was no path to drag my bag with wheels and I was overwhelmed with tiredness. I’d spent 62 hours and crossed many time zones with those bags. I’m strong and I thought I was travelling light but this time, when I went to lift them they were too heavy. I had to carry them down dark, rocky terrain and I felt like crying. Yiannis took my bag and carried it. Down we went. This wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to arrive at a house, with a front door, car tires crunching on gravel. YOU HAVE ARRIVED. Not a no path to nowhere. I followed in the dark, scared about slipping or twisting my ankle. Then some stairs appeared and some blessed light. Yiannis put the bag down and went home. Goodbye friend.
Mariel whispered she would carry my bag. I followed her down some stairs, twisting around and then a gravel path and then a patio with Morrocan lamps on chains and pretty lights and a big wooden table and my favourite director chairs and a lady smiling called something I didn’t catch but she looked nice and I said hello. Mariel looked concerned and said what did I want; some food? No. A shower? Maybe. To see my room? Yes. A drink? Tea? or ? I said a beer I want a beer. It was so quiet, my quiet voice sounded loud, she said, shhhh, I will show you your room, we must talk quietly everybody is asleep. Opps. I tried to be quiet as we walked up the stairs, whispering in hissy voices, me looking around the house, not too tired to observe: thick, white walls, pretty lamps, wooden stairs, stone floors, blue glass, books, art and cushions. We went upstairs, under a low wooden roof, outside to my room which was as advertised. A low bed, a wooden desk, white walls, white ceiling, big door, mosquito net and the all the time the roar and rush of the sea, which I couldn’t see. But I knew the Agean was here, in this room, all around and in this hidden house, hidden in the ground, right next to the sea.
We went downstairs and had a whispered conversation about bathrooms – only one? No three. Thank goodness. Sat outside and drank a cold beer and smelt Greece. Pine cones. Fresh air. Figs. Something else I couldn’t pinpoint. Getting to happy now, more relaxed, beer helped, smiles from the ladies helped. Yes it was a long journey, yes I was fine, yes I was happy to be here. That horribly expensive taxi ride was worth it. Yiannis got the money not some hotel in Athens and I wanted to wake up in Limnisa on Saturday morning and I would. Mission accomplished.
Mariel, the hostess with the mostest gave me a mini tour, she was leaving because she didn’t sleep here, she slept in the village. I thought oh no don’t leave. Then I thought stop being so pathetic Trudy. This is a fine and safe place.
I took in some of it … tea and coffee, help yourself, yoga at 8.30 and no speaking in the morning! No speaking after breakfast? No, no speaking at all until lunchtime! OMG I am in a church, a nunnery, a cult place or something…
I get water and think about washing. No way. Too cold and a shower may wake me up. Ladies moving around downstairs, turning off lights and locking doors, leaving for the village and then it was even darker. Even quieter.
I am in my little room, a little lonely, a little uncertain. I unpack and know I won’t sleep yet. I go to the bathroom for the 2nd time, stand on balcony, look at the sea gleaming in the moon light, see dark shapes of islands, take deep breaths and try to relax, enjoy endless roaring of the water, dragging back and forth on what the taxi driver told me would be volcanic pebbles. I love the sound of waves meeting the land. This is what I signed up for.
Go back to room, I can’t close bedroom door. Oh dear. Pull curtains across. A mosquito net is a flimsy barrier against intruders, put chair in front of door. Look at book case, Vanessa Bell and John Berger’s, “Ways of Seeing”, a blast from my artistic past, maybe I will read that again. Get into bed, its comfy. Solid thin mattress, a futon? Nice white linen sheets from Greece maybe? Room smells good, fresh, clean – the most important thing. It’s lovely. I love it. I should sleep now.
Try to sleep but can’t. My mind is still racing. Go to the bathroom, again. Stand on patio, again. I’m afraid of the dark and it is very dark. It is silent apart from the sea. I wonder who else is in the house? Are there any men staying? Can I walk around in my nighty? Do they have serial killers in Greece? What if one of the Dutch women is a serial killer? I go back into my room and re construct safety device – chair and mosquito net. Think about going to the bathroom again then think don’t be ridiculous Trudy. Remember that I bought “Peace of Mind” from the fabulous Amsterdam duty free shop and rub it into my temples. Inhale. Exhale. Sleep like a baby.
Wake up with a jolt at 6.15am. Good. I want to see the sunrise on my first full day in Greece. I am alive, no serial killers visited in the night and the view is well, indescribably beautiful. Hello Limnisa. I’m so happy to be here.
NOTE: Limnisa is a truly special and inspirational place and I did a LOT of writing during my recent stay there. Mariel and Philip, the couple who own and run Limnisa also offer yoga retreats. The stay includes 3 delicious veggie meals a day made with fabulous Greek produce and the property opens up on to a wide, pebbly bay with wonderful swimming and spectacular views. You don’t have to be a writer to enjoy Limnisa. The Peloponnese is simply stunning – perfect for walkers who also love the beach. I dubbed it ‘Scotland with Sun’. For more information visit their website: