In which the Wanderers get very chilly, visit some remarkable old stuff, and eat the best kebabs known to man.
But first, some television.
As a teenager I made some pretty unusual decisions. And stuck with them*.
At age 16 I decided that I was never going to watch television again.
The decision remains strong in my memory, but the catalyst has faded now.
All I know is that TV was becoming a major force in people’s lives for the first time. And for some reason I wanted none of it.
I kept up my abstinence for a very long time. I bought our first new TV only a few years back. Even though it’s a beauty I still need Amanda to show me how to make it spring into life on the odd occasion I take the remote.
I share this for context.
Now I am captivated by any moving image.
Maybe it’s why I love advertising so much – the need to tell a compelling story, often in less than a minute.
I love cinema (cinema was always allowed, it was only TV that I eschewed).
Best of all I love brilliant long form cinema advertising. The kind of brand campaigns that happen less often today because they are so expensive and difficult to measure.
I’ve watched campaigns such as Honda’s Power of Dreams, and the Charlize Theron “J’adore Dior” over and over again. I use them in presentations. I discussed them in brand education sessions.
But. Suddenly. I’m watching TV.
Winter van nights are long, and at the moment they’re blinking cold too.
In the small space of the van I can’t listen to Nick Cave at high volume every night while Minty tries to watch a download on her iPad. There has to be compromise.
This week Minty sat me down to watch something with her. She chose well.
Bang – it hit me hard, took over my free thinking time, left me wanting more.
It was the first series of the brilliant BBC crime drama Luther.
Deeply engaging, generally credible, emotive, and often amusing too. At times claustrophobic, at others beautifully filmed and expansive. All of the above exaggerated by it being filmed on turf we know so well from our time in London.
In three nights we watched every episode of the first series.
After the first two programmes and with a murderer hiding behind every tree, I then took Polly out for her late pee in this scene…
This was our most liked photo on Instagram so far. Our feeds are @archievancornwall and @mintycollins – Minty posts more often than me, and posts more jolly people shots.
That pile of old stones. Olympia.
After the beach at Vartholomio we drove the short distance to Olympia, the ultimate religious sanctuary of the ancient Greeks, and home of Zeus, father of the 12 Olympian Gods.
This is probably the most important archaeological site in Greece. If that’s the case then it’s also one of the most important in the world.
Yet it is typically understated.
There are few signs.
There’s no fancy visitor centre.
The surroundings have an air of dilapidation.
Weeds threaten to take over.
Entrance costs a mere €6.
Ignore all that and engage your imagination, for this is a truly magnificent place.
Yes it’s just a pile of old stones. But those stones were mostly shaken down by the same earthquake about 1500 years ago. That makes it easy to see how they fit together to create buildings that would leave us in awe even if they were built new today.
The stones are generally huge. Many weigh more than a family car. And they created buildings of such magnitude.
Columns nine metres high displayed sculptures of Gods, and athletes.
Hundreds of such columns were used to support single buildings.
Yet each column involved weeks, perhaps months of craftsmanship to create.
This place was built so long ago that even the olive trees don’t remember its founding.
And it was here that the Olympic Games began. More than 2800 years ago.
From the outset the games were held only every four years.
Our imagination is helped by the German Archeological Institute which has been working at the site since 1875. Several columns have been carefully restored, with any new work unaged to give us an indication of how the original looked, and to give us a concept of scale.
Today it feels that life is thrusting forward at such speed that a reversal is impossible. But maybe that reversal is a lot closer than we’d like to admit.
Ancient Greece is known as the cradle of civilisation, a civilisation that then flourished under the Romans who adopted much of what the Greeks put in place. Yet when the Roman empires folded that civilisation all but disappeared.
It’s far too complicated for a simple travel blog to explore, but it is fascinating and it occupies much of my thinking time on the road (when I’m not trying to remember my slowly growing Greek vocabulary. Glósa – language, or tongue.)
Temple of Apollo – but not today.
Excited by our exploration of Olympia we forged onwards hoping to see the Temple of Apollo at Epikourios. We swung off the coast road and began to climb. Inland Greece is rather different to its coastal neighbours, and the villages more interesting. Many are perched on the edges of hills and the state of the roads add a degree of excitement. Today in places the road had fallen away, with nothing to warn you other than a few stones placed around the edge of what should have been there. Also the temperature was falling fast.
A pleasant ten degrees on the coast had already dropped to just three degrees in the hills, and we still had a lot of climbing to do.
Snow and ice had lined the road for some distance, but when it closed across the road we stopped to assess the situation.
The weather app suggested a minus seven degree minimum overnight.
A Greek driver coming from our direction of travel indicated the need to slow down and take care.
That was enough for us. ArchieVan isn’t taking risks on his racing slicks, and there’s no pit stop that’ll enable a quick change onto more nobbly rubber.
After backtracking, and enjoying the view from the opposite direction, we’re now on the delightful beach at Kalo Nero, and for the first time in ages we’re with a few other vans. The unusually animated sea looks stunning in the early evening light. It was a shame to miss Apollo, but there’s the chance to drop by on the way back and this will do nicely for today.
Even though it is now very cold, Greece still provides many wow moments. We are grateful for the experience, fortunate to be able to enjoy this special country, especially as it often feels that we have it to ourselves.
Let’s go back to Olympia for a moment to celebrate the most excellent Pheidas Grill House.
We rarely take notice of flyers on cars, yet we saw one for this place on someone else’s window. It was the picture of a pizza that got us.
The owner demonstrated his bounding enthusiasm when we looked in. The decision was made.
Greece seems refreshingly free of salesmen, but that was exactly what this guy was, a salesman of the best sort. Someone who knows he has a great product and after 30 years he is still excited to tell his story. His souvlaki and gyros were excellent, his village wine delicious, and his little extras like lemon hummus, and a tomato and feta dip were just right. Yes, it was just a kebab, but damn it was good.
Romanos. Voidokilia Beach.
Today a short drive. Followed by an even shorter one.
It would have been easy to stop over at Kalo Nero. The German and Dutch van teams were all friendly, the beach was excellent, and the sun was shining. It was the sunshine that nudged us on. We know tomorrow will be wet all day, and we wanted to see our next destination at its best.
Is it called Romanos? Is it called Voidokilia? Who knows, both appear on maps, but this is the most perfect circlet of sand that you’re likely to come across anywhere. This beach could have been in the Western Highlands (even the temperature was right), but instead it was just down the road.
The beach would be enough for most experience seekers, but we were greedy. We saw flamingos close up on the way there, and then hiked up to Nestor’s Cave where Hermes is alleged to have hidden 50 cattle stolen from Apollo. There’s certainly room for 50 and many more cattle in the cave, but how you’d get them there baffles me, I found it a tough climb.
While that bit of the climb was hard, getting to Palaiokastro, the castle above it, was worse. Every effort was worth it though. The view over the whole bay from the small island of Proti to the north, down to Pilos in the south on a cold, clear winter’s day would take some beating.
The castle builders were keen on that view too. But for different reasons.
It was occupied over the centuries by the Franks (who built it), the Turks, Genoese and the Venetians.
We were delighted to be there. We were there alone. And it didn’t cost a penny, drachma or cent. It’s only now that I’m back in the van and researching the place that I have found that entry has long been illegal! Hey ho, we loved it!
The second short drive of the day took us to pretty Pylos where a more modern castle was built to defend this important bay.
Pylos had a huge car park near the harbour where ArchieVan fit nicely with a few buses.
Typical of any large space the car park is also a dumping ground for some major pieces of rubbish. These included: a litter of bins (the mini skips that all Greeks use for their rubbish) in a pile gradually disappearing under brambles. Abandoned cars. A 52 seater coach. Several boats in various states of disrepair. And the biggest junk I’ve seen abandoned so far – a large crane that must have had a fair value merely as scrap.
VanLife. Winter travelling.
Winter travels are a very different experience.
While ArchieVan has satisfactory heating, it’s not that pleasant to have hot air blasting all the time. ArchieVan has decent insulation, but there’s no thermal mass to a van, nothing to hold the heat and release it slowly. That means that the heater is kicking in every few minutes. In the evening we’re more likely to make the bed and get under the covers than use the heater.
Once the bed is made Polly shoots into her den underneath us. Unfortunately both heating vents feed into her den (design fault). As a consequence once she’s there we don’t use the heating again until morning. We don’t want to cook her and she doesn’t have the brains to move when she’s too hot.
The coldest morning so far has been 3 degrees inside the van – that makes it hard to get up! But it’s only mind over matter and as soon as you’re moving it’s OK.
In winter you have the roads to yourself. Here in Greece we often have wonderful bright sunny days, and there’s not a lot open, meaning that you spend less too.
The occasional camp site.
For the benefits of a hot shower, a washing machine, and electric hook-up on a dull wet day we pulled into the all-year campsite at Finikes. We’ll do a washing load in the morning, for tonight just having had a piping hot shower feels great!
Campsites in winter look grim, and when the rain falls in torrents they’re worse still. After a wet night we woke to patchy sunshine and the place felt so much better.
The hook-up enables the heating to run on electric, that’s a much calmer thing as a lower speed fan blows the heat for longer.
We pulled away with wet washing hanging from every possible hook. No one shows the real life photos of stuff like that. Unfortunately we didn’t think of taking a shot either. This morning the windows were streaming with condensation when we got up, but everything was dry. Wet wash days only happen now and then and it’s a small price for clean clothes and the joy of the road.
En route to The Mani we stopped in the pretty Venetian port town of Koroni. Now you’re talking. We both liked the place immediately and I took photos of a great house needing love on the sea front.
There was a good atmosphere even on a cold wet day in January. Restaurants had people enjoying fishy feasts. Coffee shops sold beautiful pastries. Yet there was a real town feel – think Newlyn, but bigger.
We may well go back there when the rain lifts.
Ah the rain. After all our weeks of great weather we’re now deluged daily. Huge hail hammers the van. Polly quakes with a new fear.
I was excited about going to Kalamata. But we haven’t been to a city in months and it all felt a bit hectic. There are streets and streets of grand apartment buildings dating probably from the 1920s to sparkling new places. Many shoe shops, smart clothes shops, and the snazziest cafes – but it’s interesting how none of it matters when you don’t need, or want, anything.
We had a great lunch in the only rough and ready cafe we could find. It was excellent, and cheap.
We moved on.
And tomorrow – The Mani.
*Other curious teenage decisions.
At age 14 my parents had central heating put into the house. I was dead against the idea. I never turned on the radiator in my bedroom. Ever. When mum moved into that room some years ago the radiator smelled new when she turned opened its valve. 30+ years later.
Around that time I decided I wasn’t going to wear shorts. And didn’t, other than for cycling, for many many years.
There are plenty of other things too, but these and the ones I’m prepared to share without risk of section!