I close my eyes and imagine the unbelievably deep blue Mediterranean sky, and the September sun casting a light unlike any I've ever seen. I feel a smile form and my nose wrinkle at the recalled fragrances of jasmine and thyme. I can hear the tinkle of goat bells reminding me of the slab of feta that would crown my salad at dinner.
I am dreaming of Skyros, a small Greek island in the Aegean Sea where I spent an uplifting two weeks last September.
It was the first entirely solo holiday I ever planned. I wanted my time away to be more than pure indulgence, something that would combine sun and sea with a course in creative writing. An Internet search led me to Skyros Center.
Based in the traditional, cubist-style village of Skyros, the center offers courses in music, art, writing, and wellness, to list a few. About 35 participants gathered when I was there. Almost everyone traveled solo.
Like most guests, I chose to share accommodation in the interests both of my budget and of sociability. After mentally preparing myself for two twin beds in a cramped room, I was delighted with my spacious tiled apartment and a double bedroom of my own. My roommate was a witty Londoner who kept us all in stitches and never seemed to be in the bathroom when I wanted it.
Skyros had a magical effect on me. After less than two full days, I felt I'd been there for weeks. I'd begun to rediscover that person I used to be, the one I'd forgotten: unencumbered, spirited, at peace.
Three classes are included in the holiday cost, with course options changing halfway through each session. I signed up for classes in short story writing, music appreciation, and wine-tasting.
All activities were optional. In this pressure-free zone it was okay to do as little or as much as we liked. Many of us adopted the habit of sitting up late: talking, drinking, stargazing - usually on the roof terrace of the Music Bar, where tiny colored lights glowed enchantingly. After such an evening we slept until breakfast instead of dutifully showing up for yoga, Pilates, or meditation.
Some participants said they would have liked more structure in their classes, but my instructors were professionals accomplished at inspiring enthusiasm.
I met an eclectic mix of entertaining characters of varied occupations whose ages spanned generations. We were united by curiosity and a desire to be part of a community while on holiday, rather than pampered guests at a luxury resort.
I clicked with several people of both sexes. Something about the Skyros philosophy of reuniting dreams and creative spirit brought out the best in us. It seemed easy to leave our fears behind, to try new things, to shine.
While some of the program was set, much of it fell to spontaneity and adventure. Six of us ventured off on a three-hour walk through a green valley one morning, passing by goat farms, pomegranate trees, and a Byzantine church. Another day we gathered to make sand-sculptures on the clothing-optional beach, and one evening a group climbed a hill to watch the blood-red moon rise.
Sociability was never enforced, and most days I strolled into the village alone, admiring brightly painted doors draped with vivid bougainvillea. I drank coffee or ouzo at cafés, and treated myself to fresh baklava, while I practiced my smattering of Greek on the locals.
The first week passed slowly as I savored each moment. But the last half of the holiday zoomed by. I wanted to stop time. My new friends' smiles began to crumple in the final days. Some of us felt deflated about the pending return to the real world.
"Things might feel different when you go back" said one Skyros veteran. "These vacations can change you in ways that last well beyond the tan."
For me, and for those with whom I've kept in contact, this has been true. Our creative spirits are still awake and roaming. We're generally aware of increased confi- dence and optimism. Our lives have been re-prioritized, with more thought given to our interior needs.
We remember the magic that touched us on Skyros. And we hear it calling us back.