Best Laid Plans: Plotting a Summer Greek Vacation with Friends over Christmas – Part II

Welcome to the conclusion to vacation experts Hellenic Holidays’ Christmas tale. To read Part I click here.

“Oh my God this is going to be really complicated isn’t it?” says Melissa. “We can’t even decide on which Greek islands to go to! And even if we agree on that, the hotels, tickets and all the rest are going to be a nightmare.”

Steve and Joanne exchange a glance. “Tell them about the Secret Weapon,” she says to him.

“Do you know the president of Greece?” asks Joel. “I sincerely hope you know the president of Greece who, I am certain, owns an amazing hotel on Mykonos.”

“Not quite,” Steve says. “Last summer we planned our honeymoon in Greece through a company called Hellenic Holidays. You tell them what you want and, boom, it’s arranged. And better than you imagined. They know what’s good, what’s not, and they sort everything out for you. It was because of them our honeymoon was so amazing. Completely headache-free. They call themselves Greece vacation experts but we started calling them the Secret Weapon.”

“We met so many other couples who were always stressing over logistics,” Joanne adds. “We never did. Having Hellenic Holidays was like being the Seal Team 6 of Greek vacations.”

“Was your honeymoon a cover for assassinating a major international terrorist?” asks Joel. “Because you’re making it sound like it was a cover for assassinating a major international terrorist.”

“It was a turn of phrase.”

“That doesn’t sound like a denial.”

“Joel,” Melissa says, slapping him gently on the wrist. “Can you at least try and stay focused?”

“Not according to a single one of my high school teachers.”

“To get this conversation back on track,” Ravi interjects, “Say we go through Hellenic Holidays, what does that mean for what we are discussing?”

“Just that all we need to do now is settle on a basic itinerary.” Steve responds. “Two or three destinations. The kinds of things we want to do. They will then guide us and take on all of the legwork.”

“Well that does sound very positive,” Nina says. “But only in the sense that it leaves us exactly where we started.”

“And which brings me back to Santorini,” Ravi continues. “You guys had an amazing time there last year. So why shouldn’t we just go there? I hear that it is positively remarkable.”

“It is,” says Joanne. “But it’s a bit like Venice in that sense. Incredible, and absolutely worth seeing, definitely. But it is also pretty packed with tourists everywhere. It’s not necessarily the best place to wind down and take it easy. So if the plan is to go somewhere and get away from it all, to just enjoy some sun, sea and fun all together, maybe there are better destinations.”

“Elsewhere will also be cheaper,” adds Steve.

“Oh I do like cheaper!” Melissa says. “It’s so much more relaxing.” The others nod.

“We also went to Mykonos and Naxos,” adds Joanne. “And Naxos was a revelation to both of us. I couldn’t believe I’d never heard of it before, it’s such a cool island. We liked it so much we ended up going back again after Santorini and staying an extra week. We both agreed that it would be one of the first places we revisited.” The last comment she says rather pointedly, looking directly at Steve.

“Joanne really liked the kitesurfing there – ” he starts, but she cuts him off.

“And we both couldn’t get enough of the food.”

“And,” he reminds her, “we also met a really cool couple who had just come from Crete and who told us that Crete also has both incredible food and incredible kitesurfing.” Turning to Ravi and Nina he adds, “Plus it is the epicenter of Minoan history. Knossos! Phaistos! Atlantis? The birth of civilization! Doesn’t roaming those ancient palaces qualify as bucket list-worthy? And darling,” he says turning back to Joanne, “Why don’t we do both? We can go to Naxos and then on to Crete. It’s perfect for everyone!”

“Hold it right there bucko!” Joel rises to his feet to command the room’s attention. “It is at this point that I feel that I need to stand up for the under-represented minority among us. A minority that includes myself, and also Melissa.” He pauses dramatically; she looks at him curiously. “We, you see, do not have what you have.” A sweeping gesture indicates the two married couples sitting close on their respective sofas. He is in full oratory mode now. “We do not have a partner to call our own, we do not have a warm embrace when the night is cold, we are,” he raises a single index finger to the sky, “single.”

“Nina and Ravi have been together,” he continues, “I believe since eternity. And it has been with great joy, nay I say pride – pride! – that we have witnessed Steve and Joanne go from being awkward lovers, to an annoyingly blissful married couple.”

“Get to the point Joel,” Joanne says.

“The point is!” He raises his finger skyward again, then relaxes, “That we singles don’t necessarily want to tag along while you guys go being all romantic over Cretan ruins and remote beaches. We need some, how shall I put it…action. Some party atmosphere with some like-minded folks. We need some, I think the word is, Mykonoooos!”

They all laugh, and Joel beams. Pressing his case he says, “C’mon, you need to help us out. Get us where the action is. Let’s put Mykonos on the itinerary! You lovebirds can canoodle wherever. Melissa, you’re with me right?”

“While I get what you’re saying,” she says placatingly, “I think you’re more interested in hooking up with some models out to party than anything else.”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” says Joel.

“Whatever. Personally, it’s just that I don’t think that I am going to meet the love of my life in some crazy Mykonos nightclub. Who knows? Maybe he’ll be at the top of a mountain somewhere, or on some remote Cretan beach. Maybe he’ll be on Sifnos because he read the same article I read?”

“Or Milos?” Nina suddenly chimes in. “That seems like it would be right up your street.”

“Oh boy,” Joel says, sinking back into his seat. “We are making so little progress that I feel that time itself has reversed. Happy 2017 everybody.”

A stubborn silence falls on the group as Steve shares out the last of the wine from the bottle. “This is from Crete, by the way,” he says flatly, and to no one in particular.

Joanne suddenly springs to her feet. “Oh my God it’s almost time!”

* * *

A short while later their consternation has lifted as they count down in unison together with the giant crowds on TV. Some early fireworks are already popping outside in the city sky. “3! 2! 1! Happy New Year!!!” They all share kisses, hugs and heartfelt wishes. A bottle of sparkling wine is popped and shared among tall glasses.

“This is from Crete!” Steve says happily, to no one in particular.

Joanne emerges from the kitchen carrying a cake. It is a simple-looking round spongecake with the number 2019 stenciled into a white powdered-sugar coating.

“What’s that J?” asks Nina.

“This is a vasilopita” she responds proudly. “I was looking up Greek New Year’s traditions, to sort of keep with the theme and thought this one might be fun. I made it myself.” As the group clusters around she says, “And it actually might be the answer to all of our problems.”

Joel theatrically puts his ear up close to it. “Oh Greek cake,” he whispers, “tell us your secrets!”

“The secret is,” Steve says, “that there is a lucky charm hidden somewhere inside. We divide the whole thing up, and the person who finds it has good luck for the rest of the year.”

“And also gets to choose where we all go in Greece this summer,” adds Joanne.

Steve turns to her, surprised. “You know what, that’s actually kind of perfect.” To the others, “Do we all agree?”

“I’ve always believed that blind luck is the best solution,” says Joel. The others laugh.

There is a brief pause while Steve seeks out an old protractor which he insists is absolutely necessary to ensure fairness in dividing up the cake into equal segments. After he finally, maddeningly, plots out the correct lines, Joanne carves up the entire cake into six thick, equally sized wedges. She puts them out onto plates, and then gives each one to a person who she loves beyond doubt, and who loves her equally. They pause, waiting for the signal to break into the cake and search for the charm.

And in that moment, one full of possibility, Joanne has a simple realization: Regardless of to whom the charm falls, 2019 is going to be positively fantastic.