I ended up sitting next to a sweet old lady on the plane, who was holidaying on her own, and I had told her that it was my first time being a holiday rep and I didn’t know what to expect, and how frightened I was about starting late into the season because everyone would have arrived weeks earlier and they would all be settled and friendships would have been established. I think I literally had verbal diarrhea on this total stranger. I told her everything about my life and why I ended up being a rep and what I was running away from, what I expected to get out of the experience, where I saw myself in the future..blah…blah…blah. Jeez! At the time I was just relieved to have someone to talk to. It was all very nerve wracking. I am a control freak of the highest order, and for once in my life, I had lost total control over my life. I was being carefree and spontaneous. Yeah, whatever! Who was I kidding…I was making a terrible mistake, and I was scared shitless! I wanted to turn back. I wanted to get off. I had made the wrong choice. These were all the thoughts flying though my head as I sat on the plane 32,000 feet above sea level as this metal tube with 219 holidaymakers, plus 1 very frightened holiday rep, made its way to Thessaloniki airport in Greece!
Man, oh man. I was right for having all those initial feelings. Arriving mid-season to a destination especially if you had no clue what to expect…SUCKED!
I was met at the airport by my allocated manager, Tracy, who had on enough make up to make a clown jealous. Her eye liner, eye shadow and mascara were so thickly coated onto and around her eyes; I wasn’t sure how she was even able to see. Sweet girl though– and I say ‘girl’, because she wasn’t that much older than me. We headed off to the area known as Halkidiki – which was compromised of the 3 fingered peninsulas; Kassandra, Sithonia and Athos. I had read about this area prior to arriving, and it was supposed to be a fabulous place to live and work.
My temporary abode was in the centre of a small greek village known as Kalithea, on the peninsula of Kassandra. The balcony overlooked a little road that ran through the centre and I could watch all the goings on from up in my turret. I remember being dropped there, hauling my 2 oversized suitcases up 3 flights of stairs and feeling very overwhelmed as I looked around the place I would call home. I had been given an itinerary of my daily trips, the first of which was the following day at 6am. Tracy told me that she wouldn’t see me again for the rest of the day and I should settle in and explore my surroundings.
I decided to go for a little walk once I had unpacked, just to get my bearings and figure out where I would have to meet the bus for my trips. It soon dawned on me that everyone spoke greek – english was not a language that was universal – despite popular belief. How the hell was I supposed to communicate here? How the hell was I supposed to buy groceries or order food in a restaurant when I had NO IDEA what was written or being said? Just great! This was not what I had imagined, or signed up for. Within the space of a few hours I was pretty much ready to pack up and go back to Smallsville.
On my exploration I had not encountered any perverts or slime balls. To be honest, everyone was so polite and very friendly. Actually, most of them spoke to me in greek – which was surprising considering I looked like I had just stepped fresh off the boat with a pasty looking complexion, and the psychotic deer in headlights gaze plastered to my face. I found out the following year that I looked greek – which was why the locals spoke to me in their language, and why they were taken aback that I didn’t respond in their tongue.
The subsequent days that followed were a total blur. I went on all manner of trips to see various sights, in and around the 3 peninsulas. There were boat rides to see Mount Athos, sunset cruises from Nea Skioni, bus tours around Sithonia, city trips to Thessaloniki, market sights at Nea Moudania , and museums visits at Ouranoupolis. There was the chance to see almost every corner of Halkidiki from land and by sea. I enjoyed every single minute of it – and I even met up with the little old lady from the plane. On a couple tours she and I partnered together walking around and exploring. It was nice seeing her again, and I was even nicer to have someone to talk to and share the experiences with.
Visiting Mt. Athos was probably one of the most unique experiences of my life. It was the largest monastic state in existence and only visible by sea, and considered a world heritage site by UNESCO. Women were not allowed within a certain distance from shore, and Prince Charles (the British monarch) would retreat there. It was on this trip that I learnt that his father was actually born in Corfu – which made Prince Charles Greek orthodox by blood. The entire peninsula was dotted with monasteries’; some of them looked like they had literally been molded out of the rock walls. As the boat steered as close as we were allowed to get, a hush had fallen over the guests on board. We were hanging over the edge with our mouths open in awe, totally captivated by the dramatic scenery, as the guide spoke about the history. I could hear the gentle breeze rustling through the sails, the water as it lapped on the side of the boat and sea birds screeching high above our heads. The odd ‘’ooooh’’ and ‘’aaahh’’ could be heard amid the frantic shutter clicks of almost every camera, as everyone tried to capture the essence of what was before our eyes. We had fallen under a spell of mesmerizing tranquility.
I honestly felt like a tourist during that first week designated for excursions. But the real work was soon to follow in the second week when it was time to shadow the reps and write my sales pitches based on all the excursions I went on. I must admit, writing the sales presentations were not too hard. I enjoyed everything I saw and it was a joy for me to re-account my adventures so that they could be shared with others – even if it was for them to spend their money. I will admit wholeheartedly that throughout my tenure as a holiday rep, the sales pitch was NOT my forte. I was not the highest seller; I was not a forceful go-getter when it came to pressuring guests to buy trips …or anything for that matter. I did not hit my sales targets…ever. And if I did, that was purely by accident, or I had a particularly active set of guests staying in the hotel that week. The joke was, the real money as a rep, was made by hitting targets and getting commission. So of course every rep was actively involved in this process because they wanted the extra funds. That was great for them, but my philosophy has always been – “I don’t do my job for money. I do it because I love it. And if I love it, then money must follow”. The one thing that I did hit target for on a weekly basis was my customer service. The reviews I received were flawless – and that was probably my only saving grace within the company since I refused to be their sales pusher.
Halkidiki was just stunning. The people were so warm and generous. The men were handsome, if slightly arrogant and the women were stunningly stylish. Life there was very laid back, yet fiercely trendy. The locals at specific times during the summer would frequent the resort in the hundreds, and the bars and restaurants would be filled with tourists and locals alike. Whether tourist of local, everyone would interact like family…and that is huge in the Greek culture. Family for them is important. So important in fact, when the first born daughter gets married, she does not move away from her family home – the father builds on top of the existing structure. There was so much about the culture and their beliefs I grew to love and accept (and still do). I learnt the language so that I could communicate with my hoteliers, staff members, the locals and of course with the bus drivers – since they were the ones who refused point blank to learn english. Many of the reps found the bus drivers cantankerous and unhelpful – but I soon realised that once they saw you trying to learn their language and at least able to communicate at the basic level, they were the sweetest men ever. There was one occasion that a bus driver who didn’t know a word of english spent an entire 2 hour journey from the airport chatting away about his life in greek. I had a basic idea of what he was talking about and could interject with the courteous peel of laughter or odd phrase – but all the guests thought that I was some kind of greek speaking genius. I didn’t let them think otherwise.
Being a holiday rep certainly had the most awesome perks! Every bar owner and restaurateur wanted to be my friend. They wanted me to eat in their restaurant for free. They all wanted to make sure that I had a fabulous time in their establishment. One catch – all this eating and drinking for free meant that they wanted me to recommend their business to my guests, my colleagues’ guests, and any random guests I came across. We weren’t supposed to show favoritism – rules of the company – but hey, some places offered specific things that others didn’t. As long as I was honest and I tailored my recommendations to the needs of the guest, then it was a win win situation.
Greece spoilt me rotten. I never paid for anything in and around the resort I worked. My company was the only holiday company in the area at the time, which meant that the 3 of us working there, had a fabulous time. My first season as a newbie rep may have started out a little scary and lonesome. By the time I was placed in Fourka, a small fishing village on the Kassandra peninsula – the place I would call home for the next 6 months – I soon became very settled into the lifestyle, and forgot about my initial terror.
Halkidiki changed my life forever! There was no turning back now. I was well and truly bitten by the travel bug.