We were in the chora on Amorgos, an island known for its incredible monastery, Hozovioeissa, built into a cliff face hanging over the sea. We’d sailed past the day before, buffeted by 40kt gusts along the steep South side of the island. From the sea the monastery looked like it might have been painted onto the cliffs, a giant trompe-l’oeil.
In the chora town square there was a choice of three cafés; we chose the one with the fewest French tourists and had a cold drink. The castle perched above the chora looked interesting and we asked the man in the café if it could be visited. ‘I’ll get you the key’ he said, reached into a cutlery drawer and produced a key as huge as a pantomime stage prop. Things like that happen with David. You make an innocent inquiry of someone random and he turns out to be the key-holder to your wishes. ‘I’m afraid I have to ask you for a passport or driving license. Someone went off with the other key’ said the man. ‘It was bigger.’ he added as if that explained the temptation. I handed him my driver’s license. ‘If someone else wants to visit while you’re up there, we take their papers and give them yours to swap for the key’ said the man, slightly worryingly, chucking my drivers licence into the cutlery drawer.
We walked up the hot steep stepped streets, which got hotter and steeper as we climbed – and narrower, until the final flight up to the door in the whitewashed side of the castle by which time the steps were about wide enough for one and a half standard-width feet. The door was surprisingly small for so big a key, which reluctantly worked when inserted (as instructed) upside-down.
Inside was what seemed to be a small antechamber to a tiny church, a faded information notice about hiding from pirates and another door, with broken hinges, that gave onto the rocky peak behind its protective walls and a makeshift flagpole with a tattered fluttering Greek flag. The space between the walls was very small and the views were spectacular, of course, but neh. We’re spoiled for spectacular views. We were getting ready to descend when the ‘inner’ door creaked open and a two brothers, teenaged and French, stepped through. My thoughts skipped to the cutlery drawer back down in the village.
“Have you got my driver’s licence?” I asked the elder boy just as his father emerged sweatily through the door. Loose-jawed, the boy gazed at me as if I was one of the pirates he’d been reading about. Actually, David and I looked a bit like pirates, now I think of it, what with our soiled tee-shirts and our facial hair, and barked queries about administrative paperwork are an unusual opening conversational gambit. Still the boys looked at us with such doltish incomprehension that David decided I’d not spoken loudly enough and these foreigners clearly needed the same question shouted at them with increased volume.
“OUR DRIVING LICENSE! HAVE YOU GOT OUR DRIVING LICENCE?” he bellowed, in his best Ian Paisley imitation. In an attempt to be helpful, I translated into French. Est-ce que vous avez notre permis de conduire?
“No!” said the sweaty father, looking at us as though we were the idiot ones. “Why would we ‘ave your driving licence?” Only then did the penny drop, these people had come up to the castle speculatively, without knowledge of the arrangements regarding the key. I was still tempted to bid them adieu and leave with the key, locking the door behind us, though.