Yesterday I received a surprise letter in the mail. I knew it was coming…., I just did not know when. While at Atsitsa Bay, Skyros this past September, we wrote a letter to ourselves at the end of our “Holiday Experience” while memories were fresh and real. I continue to reflect on and enjoy the photos that my new friends posted and continue to post online. Tomorrow I am looking forward to meeting up with two Atsitsa friends for lunch. For a couple of hours, we will transport ourselves back to a Greek Island in the sun.
I am living in my Third Age and not a stranger to Solo Travel. When I lived and worked in the States, I thought nothing of driving or flying solo from State to State. Now retired, I have visited six different countries in Europe including a five week German language immersion program in Vienna. The important thing to remember, I was always in control. This trip to Atsitsa Bay was different….AND outside my comfort zone.
The trip came about as the result of a thoughtful Christmas gift voucher from my son. I had told him I no longer wanted “stuff” for Christmas. I wanted “Experiences” . Billed as an “Activity Holiday”, Atsitsa Bay gave me “Experiences” by the bucket load!
The reservation process with Skyros Holidays was efficient and smooth. They have been in the business for decades and emailed out tons of information to make sure you were informed and the risk of potential problems was minimal. I opted to stay in the Atsitsa house as opposed to “Hutland”. Easy access to a bathroom in the middle of the night, at my age, was an important factor!
I studied the website. I was nervous! Was I going to fit in? Was I too old? Was the yoga going to be too challenging for my aging body? Would there be cliques? Would I get on with my roommate? (She was lovely!)
On offer for my chosen week was an Alexander Technique Workshop, Creative Writing, Yoga, Contemporary Dance, Improv Comedy, Weaving by the Sea, Kayaking, and Singing. In addition the instructors offered shorter taster sessions. My pre-trip plan was to do yoga, creative writing and the Alexander Technique. After all my body needs all the help it can get to keep moving!
Atsitsa Bay is called a “magical place” by almost all attendees. The location is stunning and the sunsets are out of this world. As the name would suggest, the location/campus is located on a sheltered bay about 20 minutes from Skyros Airport, which is incidentally run by the Greek Air Force. It is not uncommon to witness ‘practice’ landings and rapid ascents while waiting to board a plane.
There is a stone building which houses the kitchen, a music room/library, several bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms. In addition there was a communal dining area and many shaded patios where it was possible to attend classes, curl up with a book, play chess, jam on the guitar or continue an in depth conversation. Oh and I cannot forget the bay where some serious swimming, treading water and chatting happened.
A few special spots added to the location charm. While there are sleeping quarters in the house, most of the attendees stay in “Hutland”. These are rustic huts built on the hillside. I did not count the steps up the hill, but there were quite a few!
The little family taverna next door had the friendliest and most welcoming folks you could ever meet. As an added bonus, they had WiFi!!
My last day at Atsitsa was Wine Day. The Taverna closed and the extended family gathered to celebrate. The grapes had been harvested and in time honored fashion two of the men stood in a large basin, holding on to a leather strap and stomped the grapes. They made a mean goat cheese too!
Undoubtedly the “Magic Circle” was the focal point. Located at the top of the hill, overlooking the campus, it was the place to dance, let loose, meditate and practice yoga. After climbing up there and catching your breathe, the magic enveloped you.
While the location was an important factor and very special, the magic truly came from the people. Atsitsa follows an Ancient Greek philosophy based on three ‘C’ words- Community, Communication and Creativity. Throw in Respect, Fun, Laughter and Great Food and that about sums it up. The food was healthy and delicious with plenty of vegetarian options.
Upon arrival, we were met by the Course Director and the Work Scholars. These terrific folks worked hard to keep the place running smoothly in exchange for food and board. Their nationalities and ages covered a broad range. They were drawn from all sorts of backgrounds; an American College student taking time out to figure out what to do with his life, a massage therapist on his way back from a workshop in India, a lady from London who worked Market Research in the off season, a nutritionist who created our healthy breakfasts and lunches and a big, bandana-wearing dude on a motor cycle, who was the evening chef. It says something for at least two, this was their 19th year. There was no “us” or “them”. They ate with us and participated in the programs in their free time.
Our instructors were experts in their subjects and knew how to make things fun. They sat wih us, ate with us, laughed with us and willingly answered questions in their downtime. At least two of the ladies were inspired enough from their creative writing course to go home and write a book. Who would have imagined that this old gal would join in a dance routine choreographed to “ Uptown Funk”, a flashmob routine to “How to save a Life” or be twirling a ribbon like a five year old rhythmic gymnast? All the credit for that went to the red-suited Kym who taught us non-dancers steps, cajoled us to step out of our comfort zone and encouraged us to laugh until we could barely move. He even helped Heather check off a bucket list item by flying into his waiting arms in true “Dirty Dancing” fashion.
Last but not least were the other attendees. Approximately 50 in total. Each with a story to tell. Each an inspiration. Each giving of themselves. Retirees, musicians, therapists, divorcees, widows, an amputee and entrepreneurs. What an eclectic bunch! But it worked. Oh boy did it work!
How do you build a close knit community so quickly? We ate together, sitting next to different people at every meal. I met so many fascinating people. We formed work groups. Some of us peeled carrots and chopped vegetables and chatted, while others swept the patios and put away the dishes. We talked, we listened, we shared and we laughed.
One of the key activities was the daily thirty minute Ecos Group Meeting. Our group consisted of seven special people. We wore our emotions on our sleeves and shared our deepest thoughts without fear of judgement or advice. Our job, for three minutes, was to be there for each other and just LISTEN! Such a powerful 30 minutes each day!
There were three highlights for me. Who could forget the group on the beach who belted out Stand by Me and Lean on Me as the sun went down?
Everyone in our dance class was inspired by Richard and his three legs (one leg/two crutches), his joy for life and his ’I can do’ attitude.
I do not know of anyone involved who was not profoundly moved by the Five and a Half Rhythm session. The Magic Circle worked its magic and the power of movement and music did the rest. Many tears were shed that night.
My roommate was on her eighth visit. About half the group were returning for the umpteenth time. Our dance instructor was on his 6th visit. 2 of the staff were on their nineteenth year.
Skyros Holidays, along with a group of fun, open minded folks know how to get it right.
DANCE * SING* TALK TO STRANGERS* TRY NEW THINGS