Repping in Rhodes Island – good, the bad…the near death. 

After my first introduction to Greece I knew that I felt a connection to the people and the culture. I felt like I belonged.  I knew that my 3rd summer was going to have to be on a Greek island. Thank goodness the Travel Gods heard my prayers..rhodos island.I was headed to Rhodes for 6 months and I was chuffed to bits.

I’m not sure why I always felt I had been caught off guard when I arrive in Greece. Somehow I manage to forget that the toilet paper has to go in the bins, there are no washing machines and accommodation is as basic as a broom cupboard. I forget these major issues…yet I still want to go! Is that glutton for punishment or simply embracing a past life? Whichever it was, I was thrilled to be in Rhodes like an excited child in a candy store!

_Lindos-Streets

Lindos

“Rodos” (as the Greeks called it) is an island which has one of the most infamous places in all of Greece…Lindos! Such a beautiful picturesque whitewashed village perched on the side of a hill with its little cobbled stoned walkways, quaint shops, boutique bars interspersed with traditional tavernas. The beach located in the cove below was probably the best on the island…white sand and crystal clear water that lapped gently onto the shore line. Sounds rather glorious doesn’t it? One small, tiny, itsy little downside to Lindos…it was the HOTTEST place on earth in summer. The temperature would reach to over 100 degrees….in the shade!! If you were brave enough to withstand the heat on that side of the island… Your car tyres may not have. There were instances where the heat was so bad car tyres would literally melt. Yup…some would have said “hell”…but since I wasn’t located on that side of the island… I was in heaven!

The one time I did go to Lindos for a night out with a bunch of reps, I got so blindingly drunk in one of the bars I ended up puking all over the beautiful cobbled stone streets in front of the locals, climbed over some wall, and had to be escorted back to a reps apartment where I passed out until morning. So my one time in Lindos was scarred and I was far too embarrassed to show my face down there again.

Rhodes is a very historical island covered in huge amounts of ruins and old temples. There is amazingly dramatic scenery, picturesque views and overwhelmingly lovely people. There are trips to the nearby island of Symi – home to the worlds finest sponge divers – yes…thats right…’sponge’ which you use to bathe with, originated at the bottom of the ocean. This was a fascinating eye opener for me…learn something new everyday! Not only are they renowned for their sponge diving abilities, but also their shrimp…YUM! Symi shrimp has got to be the most delicious crustacean I have ever had the pleasure of eating in its entirety.

For those people who like cheap bargains such as cheap cigarettes and even cheaper dvd’s, then Turkey is pretty much a hop, skip and a jump away by ferry. Ok…let me rephrase that…on a map it looks like a hop, skip and a jump…in reality it is a stomach churning 1 hour journey that feels more like 3 days. That particular day we went across to Turkey was AWFUL! It was raining, the sky was dark, it was freezing and the waves were strong enough and big enough to rock and roll this giant sized catamaran/ferry boat thingy.

My first 3 months in Rhodes was definitely not hunky dory. My first couple of months was in Kalithea – where I couldn’t drive, so I had to rely on my colleague to get me to my 2 hotels. I was quite close to Falaraki – but the 2 nights I went out there for the entire summer was definitely not all it was cracked up to be. After 2 months there was a ‘rep shift around’ – which meant I was transferred to a hotel in the middle of freaking nowhere in Kolymbia…my view was a mountain.  I was actually the one to beg for a transfer…luckily one of the newbies decided she couldn’t handle the job and left…the Universe answered my prayer and I was moved closer to civilization.

For the remainder of the summer I was based near the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Rhodes Old Town, in the resort town called Ixia. I was repping 4 hotels that were located along the single main road that led around the island. It was a great spot actually. My hotels were all in a row, there were reps from other companies based nearby (who I got on really well with), and there was a cafe a few doors down from my hotels that served awesome food and had English channels so we could catch up on soaps and shows like XFactor.

I lived in one of my hotels…which was pretty awesome…only from the point of view that I could sneak off to my room early and get reception to call me if guests needed me. Bonus! What wasn’t so great was being on the sane floor as guests…I would literally have to become James Bond every time I walked in and out of my room. I would come out of the elevator and pretend I was delivering a note to my door. I would pause….wait…look around…and quickly open the door and run inside. Coming out was kinda the same. I would stand at my door quietly, crack it open, take a quick peek and bolt out of there like a bat out of hell. The hotel staff used to laugh at me and my stealth moves. I’m sure I entertained them a lot.

Living in a hotel had its perks. I had a clean room. Fresh linens and towels delivered once a week, free meals available on the top floor restaurant, an abundance of friends (all the staff in the hotel), TV with a couple American channels and not very far to go once my day was finished. However the downside was major… No cooking facility…except a kettle. No place to hang wet clothes after hand washing them and absolutely no privacy since every staff member knew your comings and goings at all times during the day and night.

Rhodes

Rhodes Old Town

Life in Ixia was quite peaceful. I enjoyed having meals with my colleague (LT) once a week at a taverna that quickly became our regular dining spot. We would regale each other with stories of our guests antics and we would compare notes on our sales techniques and customer service approach. Sometimes we would go to Bar Street and have our own mini bar crawl. Life in Ixia was quiet because we were the only reps in the area since everyone was spread out across the island.

To be perfectly honest, my season in Rhodes passed without much of an issue… until the end…when I actually waved goodbye to the entire team and watched the hotel I lived in, close down for the summer. It was not by choice I was staying….I had been too much of a procrastinator when it came to to renewing my passport. Now I was literally stranded on a Greek island which was now officially closed for the summer!

For the duration of my stay on the island, I had to find somewhere else to call my temporary home. I had no idea when the passport would turn up – but I knew I needed it to arrive asap. In the meantime, I had to arrange an alternative flight to the UK via Athens (with a 6 hour layover) and I had to find a friend who could pick me up in the UK and allow me to stay with them until I could find someone else to stay with until the winter season started. Sigh!!! What a rigmarole!

Naturally I was a rep…which meant I had luggage…and lots of it! How on earth was I going to get my entire life back to the UK without incurring major costs that would require the sale of my left kidney and first born child?? Luckily enough a local friend of mine suggested a grand idea – and for anyone who doesn’t know about this – its so SIMPLE… I posted my 3 over sized suitcases to the UK for a fraction of the cost of being charged the overweight fee! (It took about 3 weeks – but if you can wait, then I definitely recommend it).

Eventually, after much panicking and worry I finally got my passport in my hand! I can barely describe the relief I felt. After spending nearly 3 weeks eating subway sandwiches in a hotel room, nothing felt greater than being able to confirm my flight out. This was no longer a holiday destination where I was living my dream – the weather had taken a turn for the worse as winter was drawing in quite fast, and it felt like I had entered a nightmare.

I went to bed the night before my flight feeling relieved that I was actually leaving… but I was quite anxious about where I was going to stay and if my friend would be able to pick me up.  I remember quite clearly that I woke up the next morning and my ear was completely blocked and hurting me! I panicked – because I knew that if this had happened to a guest I would have strongly advised they got an all clear from the doctor before flying. Here I was with liquid now draining from my ear, and the mere thought of going to a doctor to be told I couldn’t fly was NOT high on my list of priorities. There was no way in hell I was going to be told I couldn’t fly – I knew whatever I did next would have been a huge risk….

I remember landing in Athens a few hours later unable to hear a sound out of the still draining ear, and in rather excruciating pain. I went to the pharmacy got some drops and cotton, and simply prayed because there wasn’t much else I could do. The layover was the worst part of the entire journey, because this is the point when a raging fever started. I felt delirious, exhausted and so unbelievably cold. Every ounce of energy was starting to leave my body slowly as I waited patiently for my flight to be called. All I wanted to do was sleep. My eyes were burning me, my throat was dry… I knew I couldn’t fall asleep otherwise I would miss the flight. Thankfully after a torturous 6 hours the flight started boarding and I slumped into my seat like a rag doll feeling rather frightened and unsure what was going on with my ear as it continued to drain a funny colour.

I barely remember landing in the UK, waiting for my friend (RG) to pick me up or reaching her parents house. I know I made small talk but I kept dipping in and out of consciousness. I know that by the time I got to her parents house I was burning up and I literally passed out. I remained delirious for what felt like weeks. I couldn’t eat or drink anything…it made me puke. I was burning up on the inside and I had made peace with my Maker…I was just upset my mom didn’t know what was happening to me and I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye.

God bless RG’s mum for taking care of me with cold rags, ice, medication and a trip to the doctors….once the fever had broken. Turns out I had contracted a rather serious ear infection which had damaged my eardrum. I was lucky it hadn’t ruptured…but I was completely deaf in one ear for 2 months….worse feeling ever!

My time in Rhodes was wonderful and thoroughly enjoyable – but my procrastination proved I had to manage my time properly, get organized and stay focused. I changed a lot after that incident – I definitely made sure to check my passport expiry date every year…just in case I had another brush with death.

Advertisements

The start of my repping adventures in Halkidiki.

I ended map of halkidikiup 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.