By Gavin Jones
EVERY year, millions look forward to a particular event with eager anticipation: their summer holiday abroad. It’s extraordinary that part of this ‘fun’ process incorporates being strapped for hours in a cramped seat with minimum leg room in a metal tube travelling at 600 miles an hour, the end of which invariably concludes with people mindlessly hogging the carousel and preventing one another from picking up their luggage. And all for the customary fortnight in a sun-kissed destination in order to smear oils or creams on the body and lie in the sun for hours on end. People living in northern Europe descend on their local travel agent and leave armed with brochures filled with contrived pictures of happy, smiling models sporting bikinis, flat tummies and sparkling teeth, either lolling on hotel balconies with palm trees and calm seas in the background or else throwing balls to one another on deserted beaches. And every year the same ritual is performed with high expectations that the dream factory that they expect will turn into holiday nirvana.
Having worked in the travel industry in the early 1970s in what was then Cyprus’ premier resort, Famagusta, I’ve experienced what it’s like to be on the receiving end of those expecting the ‘dream factory’ treatment and it’s an extremely intense, stressful occupation. After a very short time, you envelop yourself within a metaphorical coat of chain mail in order to counter the barrage of requests and complaints, often trivial, nonsensical and unjustified, that can be hurled at you.
It seems that once on holiday, people who in their own countries normally wouldn’t say boo to a goose, can flick an internal switch and instantly turn into raging, abusive monsters with demands and threats of legal action. It’s almost as if they bring with them the frustrations and petty politics of their workplaces, bottled-up anger and neuroses and feel not only empowered but justified in releasing this pent-up rage once they arrive at a hotel in foreign parts. After a day or so, most tend to have calmed down and if you’re responsible for looking after them, one can sometimes become a sort of agony aunt and have to listen to their life stories and problems, rather like hairdressers trapped for hours on end in the company of people who seem to think they’ve a right to unload because they’re paying customers.
What has also become part of the holiday ‘culture’ is one of entitlement, with hotel residents threatening to sue for the slightest incident, be it slipping in the bath or poolside, or else demanding an upgrade because there are insects in the room or complaining because there are too many children, Germans, Russians or whoever. As has recently been reported, falsely accusing the hotel of food poisoning is another wheeze which is regularly rolled out when the reality is that they’ve had too much sun, eaten too many ice-creams or else over-indulged with alcohol. Swinging the lead with the ulterior aim of obtaining compensation seems to be a trait which is on the up.
Living on a Mediterranean isle seems to engender a feeling among relatives and friends that you’re fair game for a freebee holiday. This can result in ending up with the host having to be all things to all men: airport transfer service, entertainment impresario, event organiser, Michelin starred cook, impromptu snack provider, sommelier, general galley slave, sheet and towel changer, ancient monument guru, taverna organiser, coffee cup washer and ashtray emptier. It can be especially difficult to cater for the younger generation when they come to visit as inevitably they’re glued to their iPads, iPhones or other electronic gadgetry for most of the day, and instigating any form of communication with them is akin to scaling the north face of the Eiger!
Many have experienced sorry tales of rifts after such visits and all too often relationships are irrevocably broken as a result of people not pulling their weight while being given generous hospitality. Invariably the hosts need complete rest if not a holiday themselves.
Finally, what is my view of the perfect holiday? An out of season break in central Tuscany, based in a small pensione or private house within striking distance of the medieval city of Siena, would be my choice. This wonderful place is famous for its exquisite Duomo constructed with white and greenish-black striped marble, the Piazza del Campo, venue of the twice yearly Palio, wonderful restaurants and the stunning landscape of the Chianti to the north and rolling Crete to the south towards Montalcino and Montepulciano. Another equally blissful location is also located in Tuscany: the open air, natural spa in Saturnia called the Cascate del Mulino which is located in an area littered with stunning Etruscan and Roman remains. So many resorts call themselves ‘spas’ when they’re nothing of a sort. Come summer or winter, take a pair of swimming trunks and a bathrobe and for free one can bathe for hours in the warm, cascading, sulphurous waters with their constant temperature which over the millenia have turned the rocks green. Now that’s what I call ‘holiday heaven’. And not a stroppy, whingeing tourist in sight.