In this week's Behind the Lens I'm looking back to 1999, long before I had children and at a time when I was single, footloose and fancy free. Long before I had expensive camera equipment, as will be evident with the image quality in this article.
It's a time that now seems to have been a lot simpler, less complicated and global travel was taken for granted. From memory, the scariest thing back then was preparing for the millennium Y2K bug which was predicted to wreak havoc on the modern world. How wrong were those predictions?
In July 1999 I arranged to travel to Greece with some friends in an attempt to escape another long Melbourne winter. We planned to spend five days in Athens together and then island hop to the party island of Ios and then onto the picturesque Santorini for my first Mediterranean summer. The flight from Melbourne to Athens was a long one, over 20 hours. The flight however seemed so much longer as I was sitting next to a gorgeous old Greek couple who were lovely to chat to but who also both snored like grizzly bears when they slept. I estimated that they both slept and snored in perfect harmony for about 14 hours of the 24-hour flight. To top it off nicely I also had a distressed infant behind me who screamed for hours before falling asleep from total exhaustion. There was also a toddler who was getting much pleasure continually kicking the back of my seat. Athens couldn't come quick enough.
We touched down at Athens International airport at around 10am. The airport was hot and extremely chaotic. The English language barrier was an issue and trying to get through customs and arranging transport into Athens central seemed a lot harder than it needed to be. We were all desperate to book into a hotel, shower and catch up on some much-needed shut eye.
Finally, around 1 pm we made into downtown Athens. I was totally fascinated by the eclectic blend of architecture. Everything from modern contemporary to early 19th century and then rising up like a phoenix from the ashes was the incredible ruins of ancient Greece. I was staggered that beside a newly constructed McDonald's store with its gigantic inflatable Ronald McDonald swaying in the breeze there was a large fenced off parcel of land that was home to the most astonishing marble columns, still standing tall after two and a half thousand years. Still standing after enduring wars, earthquakes, erosion and everything else mother nature and mankind could throw at them.
My friends and I spent four days exploring Athens with the highlight for me having an incredible Greek meal in an outdoor restaurant directly at the foot of the Acropolis. The Parthenon which is the iconic building that sits on top of the Acropolis was illuminated by a spectacular lighting show. Athens is a large and busy cosmopolitan city not unlike any other major capital city in Europe. I enjoyed our stay but was very keen to get the Greek Islands.
After Athens we made our way to Ios via ferry which has a reputation as the party island. It didn't let us down. We rented a small house only minutes from all the nightclubs, bars and restaurants that the island had to offer. I remember waking up my first morning with a heavy head after some substantial partying the night before to the sounds of the clanging of a tin bell and the hee-hawing of a donkey. I looked out the window and there was an old man walking along the road with his donkey and two dogs. It was reminiscent of that classic Greek island scene from the movies.
We spent our days swimming, partying and tearing around the island on our hired mopeds. Of course, we failed to wear proper motorcycle riding attire, we were on holidays in the Greek Islands after all. Our standard moped riding gear, like everyone else, was shorts, singlet and thongs. We did however all wear helmets which was fortunate, as Manny, one of my friends came to grief on a curly bend. He was travelling at a decent speed when he came off so managed to lose a considerable amount of bark as he slid across the gravel roadway. That was the end of a pleasurable Greek Island romp for him. He spent the rest of his time limping around and having his war wounds sterilized and dressed daily. He was picking out small pieces of gravel from his flesh continually for the best part of a week. The rest of us promptly returned our mopeds and chose safer modes of transport.
We spent the best part of a week in Ios mostly partaking in all the nocturnal activities. Drinking, dancing, fraternising and enjoying the company of lots of young international tourists. Most the bar, café and restaurant staff were either English, Aussie or Scandinavian backpackers, all enjoying the good life on working and playing in paradise.
After a week on Ios I was ready for break from all the partying. Santorini was our next port of call. The ferry ride was only about 50 minutes. From the moment we arrived at Santorini I was amazed by the incredible scenery. It was exactly as you see it the postcards and travel magazines. Santorini is the most famous of the Greek Islands with it's soaring rocky cliffs rising above the azure Aegean sea adorned with white washed buildings with blue dome roofs, doors and window shutters. There are also incredible splashes vibrant pink from the bougainvillea scattered amongst the buildings. Santorini sunsets are world renowned and every evening hundreds and sometimes thousands of tourists gather in key locations to catch glimpse of this phenomenon. With its instantly recognisable landscape, romantic sunsets and incredible accommodation options it's clearly evident as to why Santorini is such a popular holiday destination for weddings, families and of course the rich and famous.