How To Look Like A Small Town 
Girl When Traveling Abroad

Carole Wyatt

© Copyright 2002 by Carole Wyatt

Photo of Corfu.
       So here I am lost in Paradise. The turquoise water laps against the ferry as I gingerly make my way down the narrow walk way while cars ease pass me. Athens, city of culture and history, was my original destination. The twenty-four extra hours it would take to get there was a little off-putting, especially to someone who was used to driving to the next state in a matter of minutes. 

       An overheard conversation which extolled the virtues of Corfu’s beautiful beaches, inexpensive lodgings, and tourist stuffing breakfasts was enticing. The sound of a full English breakfast of eggs, sausages, potatoes, toast, and, oddly enough, baked beans sounded tempting. Breakfast so far had consisted of rolls and tea. The tea was good, strong, and plentiful, but the rolls were a serious hazard to expensive orthodontic work. Blinking against the bright sun, I disembarked in search of the wonderful, almost mythical, breakfast.

     The chaos of tourists meandering through a maze of street vendors, idling taxis, and hotel mini-buses was deafening. All the same, at twenty four years of age and seeing the world on the cheap, I was reduced to obsessing about breakfast. Luckily, although I had managed to capture some of the notable sights of Western Europe on Kodak chromatic film--Buckingham palace, Big Ben, The Louvre, The Sistine Chapel, and the Coliseum  were all pale memories in comparison to the lure of a piping hot English breakfast.

was a not small touch of irony that I was seeking an English breakfast in a country that wasn’t England. But rather than focus on irony I was focussed on the growling of my empty stomach.

     Passengers clutching bags and tattered guide books searched for appropriate hotel buses while students sporting formidable backpacks set off on foot. The rapidly dwindling crowd brought home the realization my sudden impulse stop at Corfu left me without any type of lodgings. In fact there was a small hostelry in Athens expecting me in about a day or so.
     “Excuse me, could I give you a ride into a town, Miss?”

     A bearded dark headed man a little on the short side inquired. Back in the United States, I wouldn’t even consider accepting a ride from a stranger, but abroad everyone was a stranger. Since my plans to travel with a friend had gone awry I had spent a lot of time conversing with strangers, eating with  strangers, and touring with strangers. While trying to decide if riding with a stranger was one level up on the danger scale, the bearded gentleman pointed to his truck which had Hotel Jason stenciled across the door and had a bed of back packers who were also intently waiting on my answer. Smiling I climbed into the truck reassured by the sight of British punk dressed teens who I inadvertently crossed the continent with. Waving we called out greetings to each other which consisted of things like: Hey, Hullo, How are you since I never bothered to get their names as we stood in line to board various ferries and trains. The ride into town went life threatening fast as the small truck climbed the narrow mountain road at impossible speeds giving brief flashes of red tile roofed buildings and pine trees as we climbed towards the summit. The austere architecture of hotel perched on the highest point of Corfu made it Acropolis wannabe. Almost there, the truck’s gears were downshifted for the turn at the same time a loaded tourist bus careened down the road missing up by mere inches. A quick glance all around assured me that the driver was unperturbed by the close encounter, obviously not an unusual occurrence.

     My heart beat was up to twice its normal rate as the driver pulled into the courtyard. Where tourists leisurely sauntered out of the hotel armed with cameras, sunglasses and maps ready to take on the day. Before the little pickup  finally shuttered to a stop,  the backpackers were climbing out the back shouting out their thanks, Watching intently I saw their humpbacked forms disappeared in the direction of a campsite I hadn’t notice before when my life was so busy flashing in front of my eyes. My bag was headed for the main doors of the hotel with the bearded one attached. Extremely white, middle aged people exited the hotel in Madras shorts, polo shirts, and sandals with socks, people not too unlike my parents. That was enough to let me know I could not afford Hotel Jason. Scampering after my suitcase and the bearded one, I briefly thought of the youth hostel I had stayed at with rooms of bunk beds reminiscent of summer camp or the economy bed and breakfast that usually were in the basement. The basement was referred to as the ground floor just to confuse Americans, I suppose. Overall it made sense; a floor in the ground was a ground floor.

     Still there went my suitcase all the way to the front counter and how was I going to explain that I had didn’t have reservations or the money to stay there. The bearded one was so friendly and talkative in the truck suddenly couldn’t hear me or chose not to.  Holding up a finger, he indicated that he needed a room for one to the desk clerk who was already handing over the key by the time I reached the desk. Trying not to pant as I wanted to after my mad dash across the lobby I managed to blurt out.  “ How much?”

     “Six dollars” The choirboy faced clerk announced. Six dollars, that couldn’t be right. It was seventy dollars to stay at The Holiday Inn with an AAA discount. Obviously I didn’t understand the exchange rate. Traveling with American Express checks in American Dollars denominations I had been blithely signing trusting my fellow World citizen to give me the appropriate exchange rate.

      “Six American dollars for a night.”  I queried making sure I wasn’t walking into some monstrous mistake like $6 per cubic foot.  “Six American Dollars, breakfast is extra.”

     Choirboy desk clerk continued to smile at me and nodded his head emphatically in case I didn’t get the message. The loud rumbling of my stomach alerted everyone that breakfast was very much on my mind.

     Pointing to the waiters clearing off wrought iron tables in the lobby, Mr. Choirboy clerk mournfully explained that breakfast was over. My stomach gave an outraged grumble at the thought of no breakfast. Maybe I should have had those hard rolls on the ferry instead of holding out for the English breakfast.

       “You can get breakfast at the beach cafes any time of the day.” The bearded one helpfully replied once again acquiring the ability to speak English.  My suitcase disappeared upstairs with the bearded one as once again I scrambled after it. Following the suitcase was start to get a bit tiresome. The room door opened to reveal a hardwood floor that led to a tiny balcony that looked over the bay. The view was breathtaking with the fishing boats bobbing in the water like toys. The furnishings were sparse with two twin beds, a small dresser, and a bed stand topped by a small lamp. The clean lines of the furniture echoed Danish modern. A small bath adjoined the room that had a shower bath. Translated into American it meant shower. Still a luxury after sharing bathrooms with a dozens of people at the hostels.

     The simplicity appealed to me, but somehow it was different from the monotony of various motels visited during our annual summer forays into family harmony often referred to as the summer vacation. There was no television, and come to think of it no phone either. No flyers on the bed stand about Jacko’s pizza delivery or Gideon Bible stuck in a drawer. It was  different all right, but a good different.  Contemplating a trip down to the beach café, I decided on a shower so I could start feeling half way human after sleeping on the ferry in my clothes. There was something I was supposed to remember about the shower. It sounded like they only turned on the hot water at brief times during the day. Surely, that couldn’t be right. Quickly stripping, I stepped into the lukewarm  shower only to experience it grow increasing colder no matter how I jiggled the knobs.
    Did I listen?  I scolded myself while blindly reaching for a towel. There was something in the bearded one mumble about the rules of the hotel about hot water being available only at certain times. At the time I thought it was humor, albeit odd humor, but still a joke all the same. Hurriedly I dressed in a white crop top and shorts, an outfit I deemed cosmopolitan. My Candies slides weren't exactly made for walking down steep rocky inclines so I ended up carrying them.  Slipping on my sunglasses I was ready to be incognito. The bearded one and choirboy both behind the desk smirked at me as I passed by.

     About quarter mile later, and some rather painful encounters with rocks and vicious vegetation I made it to the main drag where I could put on my shoes.  A careful perusal indicated almost every café was featuring the Full English Breakfast for prices as low as $1 or $2.  Impulsive decisions never being my strong part, with the exception of getting off at Corfu, I weighed the pros and cons of each cafe. My stomach reminded rather rudely that we were now considering lunch instead of breakfast and it definitely wanted twice the food. The Merry Maid was the place for me which had a hanging display board that features a red cheeked buxom maid. Perhaps it was supposed to appeal the English to give them a feeling of being at home. Still I hadn’t noticed many open air cafes in England. No matter it had the biggest breakfast completed with tomatoes, potatoes, beans, toast, eggs, sausage and bacon.  Breakfast was consumed in the company of two elderly British grandmothers named Lucinda and Ethel. The habit of cramming as many people at one table as possible was new to me, but not totally unpleasant. Waving goodbye to my new friends, I was ready to toast on the white sand beaches with a few hundred other tourists.  A brief inquiry about the beach had the waitress pointing in a number of directions and rattling off specifics about each area. One pointing elicited a tsk-tsking and shakes of the head, the other a roll of the eyes, and the third area she pointed at merited a smile.

     Clueless about what she said I decided to head to the area which caused the rather dour waitress to smile.  A crowded beach full of screaming toddlers and oversized people in tiny European swimsuits was a bit overwhelming.  Wading into the mass of humanity, I stretched out my beach towel and closed myeyes to shut out the claustrophobic feeling of being elbow to elbow with my fellow human. The eyesclosed thing wasn’t working especially after I been stepped off twice. Ironically the masses of people werenot in the crystal clear water. Gingerly picking my way across the multitude of reddening backs, arms, and bellies I made it into the water.

     The crystal water, the fishing boats with the sails furled, and the shadows of nearby caves gave everything a storybook quality if one didn’t look back at the beach.

     Moving away from the crowded shore, I waded north in the knee deep water in search of other beaches, less crowded beaches.  Up ahead the beach looked less crowded. Even farther in the distance the spots on the sand were even farther apart. Striding forward, I wondered about the advisability of not wearing my contacts. Stories about contacts melting onto retinas had frightened me out of wearing my contacts to the beach. Splashing up on the beach, I noticed a few heads turned to me look at me. It must be the new string bikini I bought in Rome I assured myself. A close perusal of the beach ascertain they  were probably not commenting on the sleek lines of my new suit rather that I had on a suit at all since none of them did. The oil slicked bodies laid drowsily in the sun barely registering a blink of the eye withmy sudden appearance out of the ocean. No, not my beach, obviously. Strolling back into the water I decided to head out for the other beach I passed. Totally nude beaches, definitely not the Holiday Inn.The next beach was a little more populated but there were scraps of vibrant color indicating swimsuits.Perhaps I could rest here after my long water walk. A large sun warmed rock beckoned me. If only Icould reach it I could stretch out and rest.  The stone felt marvelous under my water slick back. Before I knew it I was asleep. A stray splash hit e waking me up. Disoriented at first, I looked around to get my bearings. A group of women were chatting underneath a beach umbrella. One of the ladies started wavingat me. I recognized her as one of the elderly British ladies at the cafe.   Lured by familiar face and a friendly smile, I headed in the direction of the women only to be astounded by the time I reached them. They were all topless. Strategically held books or sun reflectors disguised that fact from a distance. Amazed that  women the age of my mother and grandmother were simply sitting around topless under thehot Grecian sun left me momentarily speechless.

       “So how did you like your breakfast?”  One beaming grandmother inquired.

       “Wow, what a breakfast, I’m surprised you guys don’t get fat eating all that everyday,” I maintained eye contact rather than look lower.

       “Oh-ho,” the women tittered, nudging each other at the humor of my remark.

       “No one eats like that in Britain.”

       “Yes, all we ever have is tea and toast.”

       Amazed that I had been wanting to experience the real British breakfast instead I had once again bought into another tourist specialty, a rather tasty one at that. 

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