Travelling for leisure is often about the pursuit of the sublime experience: one where the atmosphere and accommodation at a destination perfectly suits your mood, leading to it becoming an unforgettable experience. And, it should be said, an unrepeatable experience. Which is why, when you have a wonderful experience, you should never try to recreate it - the elements will probably never align again.
Which brings us to Monemvasia. Our first trip to this magnificent walled Byzantine town, dramatically situated on a rocky outcrop, attached to the mainland by a causeway, has remained one of our most treasured travelling memories. We had a room with sublime sea vistas, the crystal clear water was just the right temperature for swimming, and the small village incredibly tranquil once the daytrippers and 'follow the leader' tour groups departed.
For this sojourn we decided to spend a couple of days on the rock to get through some writing and take a break from the road. However, when we arrived at dusk at the village entrance, donkeys laden with cement bags clip-clopping through the entrance and workmen darting around everywhere did not bode well for what was going on behind the town's walls. And we were right. The narrow, delightful stone main 'street' is far too slender for cars (access stops outside the town walls) but small diesel-powered carts were moving rocks and bricks up and down the cobbled streets. The pretty little town centre was a mess.
We'd decided to stay at a different 'hotel' than last time - the reason for the inverted commas is that in Monemvasia hotels are generally just rooms scattered around the town. Our room appeared to have just been finished and accessing it required getting around several workers who were not-so-busily finishing off the steps leading to it!
Something also not quite ready was the air conditioning. With the windows open our room was cooler but the mosquitoes were salivating as they looked forward to enjoying a feast of flesh for the evening. The receptionist at the hotel said to just let the A/C do its thing while we had dinner...
And what a bizarre dinner it was. We headed to one of our favourites. Well, there's not that many to choose from - three restaurants in fact. To the left of us was a young German couple and to the right an elderly Greek couple (complete with the glazed-eyes of people who'd had a little too much to drink), and behind us a four-top of French tourists. The food was OK but the behaviour of the people around us took the meal to a different place altogether. As the ubiquitous Greek cats did their thing - waiting for scraps at the foot of the table - all three sets of people reacted as if Beelzebub had turned up wanting to have a chat about their future plans.
The inebriated Greek couple took delight in throwing glasses of water over the cats whenever they approached, the German couple booted the cats as if they were attempting to win the kitty-kicking World Cup, and the French tourists simply hissed a lot and mimed throwing glasses of water over the cats. Bizarre. We headed back to our room where the air conditioning had gone off. By this stage the mosquitoes were a welcome distraction.
Tomorrow was another day, but dawn didn't change things. The building work in the town was far more extensive than we'd figured the night before. Our memories of silent morning walks were long forgotten as the hammering and digging started around seven. This was just unforgivable, as the town was already in high season. Why couldn't they have 'closed' the place for a few weeks to do their maintenance? After all, that's not so inconceivable when there's only one gate into the place?
We found a hotel cleaner who took our money for the first night's stay at the 'hotel' and bid our goodbyes. Not that anyone really cared. As we drove out of town and the busloads of tourists began heading into Monemvasia, we reminisced about our first trip there. Maybe one day we should give it another chance... when they'd finished Monemvasia.