Mamma Mia Me Too

The Mamma Mia church (Agios Ioannis Kastri) on Skopelos Island, Greece

Mama Mia Here We Go Again. Literally! The long awaited cheesy life affirming and tear jerking  sequel has hit our screens. The long hot summer of 2018 just got better.

But… The Mamma Mia Sequel harks back to the summer of 1979. That was a great summer too!  The young Donna graduates from her Oxford College without any direction or future plans. On a whim she heads for Greece via romantic Paris to embark on a very amorous adventure.

Albeit sporting a very outmoded wardrobe.  To my mind her outfits are more circa 1972 than the  post punk Britain and the Jubilee backlash of my youth.

The film transported me back to my own Greek Island hopping odyssey; for just the summer of 1980 rather than ten years like the poem.

let’s be honest Abba music was deemed to naff and MOR in 1980. There had been a soul and ska revival and Chic, Sister Sledge, Madness and The Specials ruled the airwaves.

A levels dispatched; I like Donna, I was drawn to Greece the Greek Islands.  My friends had clubbed together to buy me a sleeping bag and a rucksack for my eighteenth birthday. So armed with a camping gas stove a two man tent and twenty four tee shirts I caught a bus from a building site in Kings Cross station London and my adventures began. I was on the Miracle bus aptly named as it was a miracle we got to Calais let alone Athens.

No airplane for me, Just a three and a half day non -stop coach journey across Europe and the former Yugoslavia all the way down to Athens. It soon dawned on me with little food or drink on a coach where air conditioning meant a small dashboard fan for the driver that this was going to be more endurance than excursion. But when you’ve paid twenty seven pounds return you can’t really demand a refund or compensation! No TripAdvisor feedback for The Miracle Bus Company in those days.

If it hadn’t have been for two affable northern lads Ickky and Clarky who had done the trip before and had brought enough rations and drinks I don’t think i would have made it to Athens.

The thousand mile scariest accident black spot road through Yugoslavia was surreal to say the least. There would be the Occasional agricultural worker looking for all intents and purposes like extras from a Robin Hood film and other than that mile after mile of the same landscape.  you would fall asleep and wake up thinking you were still in the same place.

The drivers would sleep on the back seat and swap over driving seats without stopping. It was always done with aplomb and a theatrical flourish whilst smoking the distinct Greek cigarettes continuously. They were hard core roadsters and great believers in honking their horns,: protected by the lucky evil eye, Greek flag and worry beads draped around the rear view mirror.

Eventually we were flung off the coach and deposited in Omonia Square. Abandoned on the searing pavement  with a cursory parakalo from the weary but triumphant drivers. We stood dazed and parched watching the bus amble off into the shimmering heat.

Unlike the young Donna who seemed to just effortlessly glide from Paris to a traditional Greek harbour and I then had to battle my way through the Athenian underground to the port of Piraeus. The tube train and carriage that rattled along the platform looked like it was a nostalgic ride from the Railway Children.  It turned out to be a mega old Bakerloo Line trip to Parosnderground train from what looked like the turn of the last century. Very incongruous for me.

Arriving too late to catch a ferry I slept in the park at Piraeus having spent an age haggling for a third class ticket  on the deck to my Greek Island adventure. There was a small battalion of backpackers camping out in the dimly lit park A seasoned traveller advised  us all not to put our passport and valuables at the bottom of your sleeping bag as thieves would come and slash the bottom of your bag whilst sleeping and steal your passport and travellers cheques.

We were awoken with an early alarm courtesy of the park wardens with a high powered hose pipe. Jet washed into our new day and the beginning of my fantastic summer on the most beautiful Greek Islands. I eventually ended up staying till the autumn on Paros in those days it was a beautiful sleepy Greek idyll. I worked for a fisherman and a bar serving cocktails made with canned evaporated milk! I slept on the beach and whiled away in paradise.

Sadly, unlike  Donna and Sophie Sheridan who end up owning the Bella Donna Hotel on the idyllic island of Kalokairi, I never got to Skopelos where Mama Mia was filmed and where the cast stayed at the Skopelos Village Hotel when on location. Actually, the island of Kalokairi is a made up place for the “Mamma Mia” film.

Perhaps one of the most iconic scenes in Mamma Mia is the scene of the church where Donna runs up the many stairs and where Meryl Streep appears in a ghostly scene singing My love, My life a beautiful song from Mamma Mia Two  to Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) and herself as a young Donna played by (Lily James) Which sits adjacent to the blue, blue shimmering Aegean Sea. The pretty Mamma Mia church where they filmed several scenes is in Agios Ioannis to the north of Skopelos.

Ironically I could have hopped off my miracle Bus as it whizzed through  the former Yugoslavia because Mama Mia Two used the beautiful Croatian Island of Vis overlooking the Adriatic Sea on the Dalmation Coast. Its a two hour boat trip from Split in Croatia.  Nowadays it’s so easy to fly from the UK to Split and Dubrovnik and many more flights to Athens and so many of the Greek islands. Vis is none for its beautiful wines and miles of vineyards. You can stay on the Island sadly not at Sophie’s newly refurbed Bella Donna Hotel Kalokairi but at The San Giorgio or at one of the lovely Vis guest Houses or Tavernas .

Luckily for me now there are so many flights to both the Greek mainland and the Islands that I don’t have to endure the Miracle Bus journey anymore.  I now fly regularly to Corfu and Santorini. I am yet to return to Paros where I spent that magical summer in 1980. But next year I might just fly to Split and start another adventure to Vis and Skopelos and island hop my way down to Paros and relive my youth and have a Mamma Mia moment.