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