A Farewell to Italy. Greece, here we come.

The exhausting delight of the new. 

Some people resist change.

I feel that my spirit would wither without it.

Seeking out the new, the different, it stimulates every day.

Yet daily stimulation is exhausting.

The thought of returning to Lefkada next week delights us both.

Room with a view. ArchieVan at Polignano.

It’s in part because we know we love it there, but I suspect that it’s equally because we’ll feel a sense of home.

There are roads we can drive without the map or the sat nav.

There are places where we can stay, safe in the knowledge that it’ll be easy, that we’ll find water, and whatever else we seek.

We know where to find the market, and what morning to go (Saturday).

We know that Margarita on the sea front in Lefkada town will serve the most amazing seafood risotto.

We know that Kelvin will want to be on Kathisma Beach every day.

Lefkada will feel like a well-earned rest, a holiday within a journey. We need that now and then.

Revisiting old haunts, and the owner was delighted to see us.

Rugby and Music.

Pah! Last week I left you, about to embark on one of our longer drives, while listening to the rugby.

After England’s sound defeat we needed something to lighten the mood, and thanks to the BBC Sounds app we switched to Huey Morgan on 6 Music.

Huey was straight in with the Ramones, fast, furious, short. A few minutes later he segued the Beastie Boys with Aretha Franklin followed by Portishead.

What a beauty. A DJ at the top of his game.

The motorway was deserted. At times we could see a mile ahead on straight roads without a single car in sight. The music carried us forward.

Olives.

The appearance of olive trees started a little south of Bologna.

By the time we crossed into Puglia they were dominant. There are millions of trees from the tiniest yearlings through to ancient stock that was old when Jesus was a boy. The trees, along with the little round stone huts (Truli), define Puglia’s landscape.

The region produces over 40% of Italy’s annual output of 183 million tonnes of olive oil, but they’ve been hit by bacteria that has wreaked havoc with the trees. Testing is carried out on a massive scale by the government and diseased areas are condemned to burning in a hope of eradicating the little bug that carries the bacteria. An estimated 10 million trees, some thousands of years old, have been destroyed in the five years since the issue was discovered.

Polignano.

We’re back in Polignano where in February I moved the van in the dead of night when we were lashed by waves. This afternoon all is calm and rather warm. Eight months ago we were the only ones here. Today there are already a dozen vans.

The town at sunset is mad busy with Italians doing their pre-dinner catwalk.

In the squares the old boys sit around admiring the girls.

Children run riot.

Little dogs scrap with shrill barks.

And the restaurants don’t even open until after Minty’s bedtime.

Polignano is a geographer’s delight. Karst is horizontally stacked making perfect steps down to the sea.

Blowholes are revealed with every big wave.

And the town perches precariously on cliffs that are dramatically undercut by the sea. Beautiful though it is I’d not invest money in property here.

Polignano. Where dreams are founded on water.

Lecce.

Most people leaving the ferry at Brindisi from Greece or Albania will head north straight away.

I urge anyone who’s not in a hurry to dally a little and visit Lecce only a few miles to the south.

The town became wealthy on trade in the fifteenth century and boasts many richly decorated buildings. It leaves you wondering what it must have been like when merchants strutted their stuff, ordering ever more ornate facades for their houses and public buildings.

Lecce. Where every beautiful detail is extreme.

Turning our back on it all for the night we headed to the coast and holed up at Torre Chianca. This place must swarm with the beautiful during the season, but tonight it’s a ghost town. The sea is only 50m from the van.

View from the van – it can’t be beautiful everyday.
Beachside. Torre Chianca.

First Sprouts.

I love Brussels Sprouts, and I’ve taught Minty to too.

She came back from the shops clutching a punnet today. They’re gone already. Hot damn, they were good.

The method? Shred super fine (less than a millimetre thick), hot stir fry in oil and butter with garlic and shredded fennel. Tonight they were served with a Hungarian inspired (heavy on paprika) chickpea stew. Wholesome. Plate licking good.

Music, grappa, sprouts. Still, but very much life.

Ferry.

As we drive into the deep throbbing belly of the Grimaldi Lines whale we tell Polly that we’re taking a ferry to Greece to help her escape from the Guy Fawkes whizzes and bangs that she so hates.

Belly of the beast. Adriatic ferry.

In her eight year old (dog) naivety she believes us. Minty creates a van nest for her by making the bed including putting the mattresses down to muffle the noise. Dog tired from far more walking than she’s used to she crawled gratefully into her pit and seemed no worse for the experience when we rescued her 9 hours later.

On board we marvel at the huge quantities of food consumed by the truckers in the galley. Some put away enough in one meal to keep me happily fed for several days.

We room party with crisps and wonderful Italian fizzy red. If you’ve never tried it start with the strongest and most expensive Lambrusco you can find (even the best won’t cost much). It’s far better than you might imagine, but some is too light.

Room party. Superb book too.

Ferry cabins are rarely salubrious, but we’re starting to enjoy them. Two hot showers in the space of a few hours. Magic.

Igoumenitsa.

Leaving the ferry at 4.30am didn’t feel great, adding the hour for Greece’s time zone didn’t make it any better.

We drove through deserted streets to the wonderful Drapano Beach where we spent our last day in Greece back in February. We turned in for a few hours sleep.

Tiny church, miles from anywhere, yet with this inside.

It’s the 5th of November.

Walking Polly later in the morning the shirt has to come off and next thing I’m in the sea.

We know that there are a few days bad weather coming and that made today even more special. Good sun. Dawn to dusk. Orange chairs on the beach. Walking. Reading. Dreaming. Thank you Greece.

Saved from a skip. The orange chairs on Drapano Beach. Greece at last.

Where are the women?

The Greek woman could be a myth.

Wherever you go men dominate.

At the café? There’s even a term for cafés where all the old men stretch a coffee through a whole morning.

On the beach? There are a few women, but the ratio is approaching 10 men to each woman. They come to fish (both sexes), or swim. Most to swim. They then parade the mile long beach a few times before moving on to whatever’s next in their day.

Some are gnarly old creatures of wiry muscle and deep tan, but most show off a comfortable belly from decades of good living.

Minty’s tree. Shot from the van.

The dogs.

I’ll write a lot about the dogs and cats. They’re a major feature of the country.

The dogs in some countries alarm. I carry a staff that’s almost as long as I’m tall. I’ve done so since my first Romanian trip.

In Greece the semi-wild dogs that live on the beaches, and in the laybys are generally benign beasts, more likely to roll over for a belly rub than to bare their teeth.

But don’t get complacent.

Certainly don’t mix with an Anatolian Shepherd, the favourites of the goatherds. These huge, thick coated dogs have to survive a seriously hard life and are there to protect against wolves and anything else that emerges from the hills.

Our favourite stray. Mylo at Plataria.

Thunder.

The sun lasted two days. Two blissful days. Much swimming. Cold beach showers. Good simple food. Only Minty drank, and not that much.

Then, after a reassuringly challenging French film (Chase The Wind) the weather broke.

Deafening cracks of overhead thunder shook the van, shook us, and shattered Polly’s calm. Rain lashed us and the poor dog leapt onto the bed to protest her fear. Her preferred thunder position is to sit on my head, panting down at me, simultaneously suffocating and strangling me as I try to demonstrate how collected and unworried I am.

Storms here go on and on, then wheel around, gathering ferocity and deal out more fear. Polly may have escaped the fireworks, but she has been condemned to suffer many such nights in the months to come. Mediterranean thunder is legendary, and strongest in these lands.

Thunder and thistles. The nemeses of Polly. These play havoc with your fur.

Lygia.

With the rain predicted to continue all day we moved down the coast to within sight of our now hallowed land of Lefkada. On the front of the little village of Lygia the litter of the modern tourism economy is limited to a few subtle hotels and one tempting restaurant.

As 5pm approached I realised that the grappa bottle I’d promised myself a treat from had either sprung a leak, or suffered evaporation. Deep in the secret compartment behind the bikes I unearthed a stashed bottle of Whitley Neill gin and we toasted the coming darkness with neat spirit. This present from Gill Cooper is fragrant indeed and has already brought a cheer to what could have been a damp evening. It still will be should we step outside, but inside our strange tin box we’re cosy and ready to take on the night.

Evening light. Drapano Beach.
View from a van. Evening light before the storm. Lygia.
View from a van. Evening light with roosting flamingoes. Lefkada.
Happy birthday mum. Peggy at 89 yesterday.

10 Replies to “A Farewell to Italy. Greece, here we come.”

  1. Gillian Cooper says: Reply

    Hi Guys
    Glad you made it through all the bad weather
    Also the gin was a very welcomed sight it really is good on its own with a ice cube always keep a bottle hidden whatever it may be forget about it until nothing left then
    hey o surprise surprise???
    Nothing to report weather awful had lots and lots of rain
    Enjoy stay safe
    Hugs to PP
    LuvD&G🥂🍷😎💕

    1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

      D&G
      Reports of the weather at home sound pretty horrendous.
      It has been a big mix of sunshine and very big storms here, that’s very much the way of the Greek winter.
      Rick gave us a good bottle too so we’ve enough to survive a few days in the storm.
      Always good to hear form you.
      KC and The Wanderers.

  2. I must say that Lefkada is a really great place and I can understand why you look forward to seeing it again. Your comments concerning Polly and fireworks I fully appreciate, but are you saying our Italian friends celebrate the foiling if the “plot” or do they havetheir own reason to burn oodles of money upsetting the animal and many of the human population. 😼

    1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

      I must be getting old Rick.
      I used to think that fireworks were the most wonderful things but now they just leave me angry.
      The Italians seem to take any excuse for creating a racket, but we’d forgotten just how loud and frightening the thunder is here in Greece.
      Lefkada is as wonderful as I remember, which is lucky because I’d built it up massively in my mind.
      Tonight we’re off to the Yacht Club for a party with all the down and out boat types who fail to conform to the rules of the posh yacht club up the road.
      Cheers from us both. KC and AC.

  3. I smiled at the sight of Polignano’s housing dreams build on undercut ground and struggled with the english “undercut” and “undermined”….. You are sensitised to the topic, aren’t you?
    Thanks for beautiful pictures of sky and sea! And take good care of your poor anxious Polly poodle!
    M

    1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

      M
      I had a note from another German friend today and I thought then that English is so much more interesting when it’s written by people from other countries.
      Undercut or undermined – both work.
      I’m quite aware of the danger from unsound ground. In Cornwall when I was growing up houses used to disappear overnight because they had been built over unmapped mines.
      But to see a town as beautiful as Polgnano sitting on, well, sitting on nothing at all, that’s just crazy, depressing, exciting and could only be in Italy (I hope).
      Poor Polly will have to become accustomed to the thunder. There are storms after every sunny day here in winter. At least it feels like that.
      It’s always good to hear from you. Thanks you for your support.
      KC and The Wanderers.

  4. What absolute stars are you three? Every Saturday I wait expectantly for the next update of the adventure and, as ever, you have not disappointed. Fascination, awe, envy and not a little worry swirl around me as I drink in your tales. I would give a lot to experience such a storm….I love them as they make me feel truly alive like little else.
    Take care and enjoy Greece.

    1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

      Thank you Keith. You’ve made my day!
      We’re having a right old mix of storms and good days. Thankfully there are enough good days to save us from killing each other. You’ll know how a van can become a difficult place when the rain falls day after day.
      I still miss home and think of St Just every day.
      Best wishes. Kelvin.

  5. Walking, reading, dreaming and your strange tin can are so inviting. The photos, particularly the pale light on the beach that hints at warmer days are sanctuary seeing as Notts is basically deep wetlands with winds so biting it hurts to breathe outdoors!

    1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

      Rain. Rain. Rain.
      We’ve had the respite of a few sunny days, but when it falls you’d might as well wade in the sea.
      We have a powerful bluetooth speaker for the radio, but last night we gave up trying to hear it.
      Rain falling on a house is loud. Rain pelting a van is deafening.
      Thank you. KC

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