Plan A was India. Plan B was Albania. Plan C was Greece. The plan is to take some time off, to get away from the internet and mobile, to disconnect. Plan D is nervous breakdown. Burnout.
The two biggest problems were time and money, both of which are always in short supply. But it had to happen, my boss agreed, a month was found and so was the money. Now I am surrounded by noisy, fun loving, quarrelsome Greeks, on a ship from Athens to Crete. I am executing plan C. When I get to Crete I plan to head to the south coast, where the road runs out, and walk to Aghia Roumeli, a village that is overshadowed by a huge mountain and had no roads. Maybe I'll get a boat there. I might sail further south and visit the southernmost point of Europe, an island called Gavdos. Nothing is booked, my plan is to find accommodation when I get there - somewhere friendly, cheap and on the sea. Just this makes it into an adventure: where am I going to sleep tonight?
I'm glad to have found something exotic and wonderful in Europe. I had assumed I needed to go to India "to get away from it all" but Greece is so accessible, so friendly, so interesting. I have spent the last few days trying to understand the character of Athens, a city I had always assumed was ugly. It's anything but. And I had started to believe the stereotypes people say about the Greeks - they're lazy, crooked and can't speak English. Over the last few days I have seen the opposite; they are charming, never stop working and not only do they speak English but half of them seem to have lived in London.
What happened to India? That was my dream destination. Still is. But I was in Bucharest when I applied for a visa and it didn't go well:
- I want a visa for India, I said to the staff of the Indian Consulate.
- What kind of passport do you have? said a hard-faced, attractive Romanian girl. She sat next to a young, kind-looking Indian chap, also in his twenties. He looked like he wanted to help but he said nothing. He was in her power. She had hyptnotised him.
- You should have applied for a visa in London!
- But I'm a traveling salesman.
- If you want a visa here you need to show me a return flight ticket and a hotel booking for the duration of your stay. And then you must wait for ten working days, at least.
- What? But, but...but I need to go to Turkey first and I can't get my flight tickets until I have my Indian visa.
- Those are the rules.
- Isn't there any emergency fee that can speed things up? (hoping that Romania and India's famous corruption would work in my favour).
I promptly decided to ditch the whole idea of India, and go to Greece instead (immediately saving about 500 quid on flights). But first I went to Turkey and had a lesson in how visas should be issued: at Istanbul airport the customs officer said "you have no visa! Get a sticker! Over there!" I went in the direction he pointed, found a booth where a woman said "ten pounds or fifteen Euro". I handed over my passport, dug out 15 Euro and she stuck a little sticker - a visa for Turkey - into my passport. End of story.
Why on earth do the Indians need two weeks to issue a visa? If they suspect me of being a drug runner, murderer, agent provocateur or spy all they need to do is scan my passport, like they do in Turkey and the EU countries, and your name is bounced around police databases in the blink of an eye. If you are on a "Most Wanted" list they will push a button under the desk and well trained young men with guns will appear.
Are we really supposed to believe that taking two weeks to do this is anything other than gross inefficiency? A month ago I had a nice warm fuzzy feeling about India but now I think they are just plain stupid - at least their visa policy is. How many people like me didn't visit India, didn't spend their money there, because of these ancient bureaucratic rules? A visa is simply a tourist tax and I for one don't mind paying it, but two weeks is a long time in the life of a traveling salesman.