471BC, Themistocles established a great military port at Piraeus, near Athens. More than 2000 years later, Joyce, my intrepid travelling Granny, is deep in consultation with her Arthur Frommer’s guide book. Apparently, the walk to the old Port is a free thing to do, and well worth the effort (FYI… these days, not so safe, so perhaps you don’t want to follow in her footsteps if you are a single female traveller. Just saying!) Before tackling the port walk however, she pauses over her breakfast at the youth hostel to talk with another tourist.
Their topic is travelling as a woman, alone. Specifically the exasperation both travellers feel being subjected to the unwanted attention of local opportunistic lads, keen for a chance at the burgeoning tourist dollar. These hustlers make pocket-money selling holiday romance by means of flattery and fake infatuation. My Granny, accustomed to male attention but uncomfortable with the cynical commerce of this form, asks her new friend what strategies she adopts with the Greek lotharios.
“I let them carry on, right up until they try to kiss me! Then I just point to my cheek and say… there, kiss me there. As you would -your mother.” The way she nods afterward, suggests this method has served her well. Joyce smiles at her, finishes her breakfast and takes to the streets in search of ancient port walls. She doubts whether her fellow traveller’s advice will ever be useful.
The day was dry and hot. Joyce walked at a pace, seeking the refreshment of sea views and perhaps a stone wall to perch upon. Suddenly she felt a firm pinch on her buttock. “Oh!” she exclaimed and turned to see who had perpetrated such affrontery. A young boy, around 12, grinned up at her, “Have you got a boyfriend?” he asked flirtatiously. She raised an eyebrow at him, then adjusting her spectacles, looked at him sternly across the top of them. Quickening her pace slightly, but not so much he would fall away, she watched to see what he would do. He fell in step easily, her spontaneous travel companion.
After a while, they began a simple conversation. When they reached the sea walls, Joyce asked him if he would like an ice-cream. His eyes lit up. They sat there in comfortable silence, eyes on the sea, devouring the cold sweet treats. It was nice to see the boy being a child, nice to be in his company. When he had finished the last lick of his ice-cream, he drew that street bravado back over his young self. Bold as brass, he winked and propositioned Joyce for a kiss. She smiled, remembering the advice of her friend.
“Well,” she twinkled as she pointed to her cheek,
“you may kiss me here… as you would your mother.”
She would later reflect that she had been correct: that particular advice had never proved useful again, not in all of her travels.
Last week, my Granny was my travelling companion as we crossed the North Island skies. I leaned in to hear her over the engine noise of our aircraft. She asked me, if I were able to choose any destination in the world for us to travel to that day, where it be? That was easy.
“Europe,” I replied. I knew she had travelled at least seven times to Europe. I imagined she would be a fascinating travelling companion. As we flew on, she told me tales of her travels; sharing a meal with perfect strangers in Portugal, a heist on the Siberian Railway, her time in the Swiss Alps. How she managed on $25 a day by enjoying the hospitality of travelling clubs like Servas, or patronising youth hostels, finding work whenever she needed to. My Granny makes things happen, it is just how she is. Every time she travels, she has a brilliant time, people adore her. I liked her sweet story from her time in Greece, I thought I’d share it with you.
When our brief trip was up, I took her back home to her little flat. What a wonder she is, my Granny. I leaned in and kissed her soft cheek. Promised to pass on her love to my brood. How fortunate we are to still have our GG. To still have the chance to listen to her stories and sit beside her. It’s a rare thing to be a grown woman with a granny. For my children to have such an extraordinary Great-Grandmother. As I waved goodbye a little lump caught in my throat and I found myself hoping I would have another chance to travel with her.
She tells the best stories.
As you would, if you too had 96 years of adventures to draw from!