Cafés and beaches. The heart of Greece.

    Greek Café Culture. It’s a man thing.

    Every town has a selection of cafés.

    Most of them are surprisingly smart, as if they’d all had a makeover in the last ten years – perhaps just before the big crash.

    I posted last week’s missive from a smart café in Messalonghi, alongside the Onassis yacht Christina O.

    We arrived at the café fairly early and had good seats near the view of the wharves.

    It was only after I published the post and got up to go to the loo that the culture of day time cafes really hit me.

    In this smart (and expensive) café there were 117 men. And five women (including Minty).

    It’s often the case that there are no women at all.

    Sit in one café long enough and you’ll realise that many of the men move from place to place, sharing their trade around town.

    The Fins might drink more coffee than anywhere else in the world, but I reckon the Greeks have the most caffine.

    The Law and The Greek.

    In the cafés the men mostly chat. Some play cards. Some backgammon.

    And they smoke.

    Smoking is accepted indoors here. It’s not legal. But that doesn’t stop the Greeks.

    Likewise riding a motorbike without a helmet isn’t legal, but most do it.

    You can buy an individual seat belt clip to stop your car beeping at you. So you can drive in peace without your belt on. It’s not legal, but many do it.

    Some towns have invested in cycle lanes – only foreigners use them, the Greeks prefer the danger of riding in the road with all the car drivers.

    Most of those car drivers are on their phones. As are the truck drivers, bus drivers and anyone else in charge of lethal machinery.

    It’s mad.

    The Greeks apparently don’t like to be told what to do.

    Nudge theory should go down well here. Don’t tell people what to do, instead show them a better way and let them work it out.

    Old Mercedes, even the trucks were cool.

    More Messalonghi.

    There was more to Messalonghi that a super yacht.

    The town is surrounded by salt lakes. 60% of the country’s salt is produced here.

    The vast lagoon is, in places, divided into square fields from where the salt is harvested. Huge piles of the sparkling white crystals line the roadsides.

    Elsewhere little houses are built on stilts out of the lagoon. These were previously fishermen’s huts, although now most are probably holiday homes. Whatever, they still provide an eerie atmosphere, made more interesting by the flocks of flamingos grazing the marshes.

    Fisherman’s huts on stilts. Messalonghi Lagoon.

    To Boykka, Amfilochia.

    For speed we took a motorway.

    Only along the southern Spanish coast are motorways as interesting as here.

    In winter they are empty.

    They’re relatively new and so good quality, smooth and fast.

    The tolls are inconsistent. Sometimes the height limit for the car rate is 2.8m which ArchieVan is ok for, but yesterday it was 2.2m making our use of the road a lot more expensive (but still much cheaper than France).

    Yesterday’s route took us the other side of the mountains that had flanked our journey south, revealing the lakes behind them, and more livestock than we’re used to seeing.

    Our destination, the small fishing town of Boykka, near Amfilochia, was sleepy on the Saturday afternoon. It’s on the vast Amvrakikos lake that has Preveza at its mouth, where the road goes under the sea. The still water and the soft skies provide a superb backdrop to the snow capped mountains that ring this large expanse of water.

    Seats, views, home. Boykka.

    The small amount of activity there consisted of olive grading – galvanised machines grade by size and the fruits are then moved to truly huge plastic holding tanks. Hopefully soon I’ll find out what happens next. I suspect the small ones go for crushing and the large for eating. I hope to report back.

    We ate out again!

    Twice in a row is unheard of. Twice is a month is more likely.

    The restaurant opposite where we parked for the night was just too tempting.

    Pápos fronts the lake and serves a good fish menu and we loved our simple dinner of Greek salad, chips and a big plate of grilled sardines. With a half litre of local wine it was still cheaper than our breakfast coffees!

    Belts will be tightened again forthwith.

    Papos, and the lake ringed by mountains.

    Roads crumbling back to land.

    The trusty weather app suggested three sunny days, to be followed by a week of rain. We weren’t going to miss an opportunity like that. So, after just three nights in the house, on Wednesday morning the van was (lightly) packed again and we were off.

    The map shows much of the west coast of Lefkada as one long beach and we were keen to explore it.

    Our first attempt to get to Egremni in Billy was thwarted by a closed road.  There are differing reports of whether or not you can get there after 2014’s earthquake brought the steps down that access the beach.

    On Wednesday we tried two more beaches.

    We squeezed through the little village Athani en route to Gailos.

    One we could walk to. Around from Amuso on the south of Lefkada.

    There are days when your faith in the van and yourself are stronger than others, and yesterday we were both of nervous disposition. That’s not good. We didn’t enjoy the challenge of the tiny village streets, and worse, we then found the road closed after a section had subsided in the last few weeks. People had been posting photos from the beach in October, but yesterday there was a team working with heavy equipment trying to repair the landslide.

    Hey ho and onwards, at least we found an easier route out without having to drive back through the village.

    The next beach, billed as the most beautiful in Greece (but then, most of them are styled that way by someone) was Avali, around a few corners from our favourite at Kathisma where we camped a couple of weeks back.

    We should have seen the pattern forming.

    After a couple of ridiculously tight squeezes between houses we found the road to the beach taped off. No explanation, but chances are a section has been washed away.

    It really is no wonder that the state is broke. Even without its tax and pension problems, merely keeping roads and utilities running in a wild country like this must be so much more expensive than in the UK.

    From our perspective we’re glad that they do as much as they do. It is a truly spectacular country, we haven’t fund a boring bit yet.

    Back to Kathisma.

    After two failed attempts to reach new beaches we fell back on our favourite from last month and wound our way down to an empty Kathisma. On 5thDecember we sat out again in the sunshine. The temperature is falling, but out of the breeze it’s still shorts and tee shirts.  I haven’t been for a swim yet – but there’s still time.

    Kathisma. 5.15pm.

    With new spices bought en route last night’s chilli was particularly good, we bought meat for the first time in a while, added to that a cinnamon stick, a few cloves and a heavy dose of paprika ensured that both little plates were licked clean.

    To fall asleep to the sound of rolling waves is a lovely thing. To then wake again, hear the waves, remember where you are, and open the curtains to early morning blue – now that’s living!

    Pull on the trunks KC and get swimming in the blue. A cold (freezing cold) shower after left me feeling truly alive to the very ends of my beard.

    For the first time we forgot to bring milk, so it’s black tea with lemon. I could get used to that.

    Tidy the dog away. Kathisma.

    Dogs and cats.

    There are neither dogs nor cats at Kathisma, perhaps there aren’t enough people in winter to make it worth the creatures’ while to be here.

    We’re happy about that, it means we can let Polly roam free, but it’s unusual.

    Most bins generally house a few cats (like Top Cat the cartoon of old).

    Throw rubbish into an open bin from a distance and there’ll generally be a yowl of dissent from a resident cat disturbed in his trash sorting.

    And dogs. So many roam the streets of towns and villages. Rarely do they seem hard done by. One in particular adopted us over a couple of days up at Plantaria. We met another couple who’d met him and called him Mylo, so he’s Mylo now to us too.

    You’ll often see someone putting down some feed for them. Near Messalonghi I saw this feeder – a drop hopper such as fowl are fed from, and a water container too. Well thought out. No wonder the dogs look healthy.

    Chum again? Dog feeder, two shelters.

    Post and the Yliho Yacht Club.

    The idea of us going to the Yacht Club doesn’t generally bear thinking of. Yliho Yacht Club may become a place for showing off your wealth in the summer, but in the winter it’s just a bar for the hard core who over winter on their boats.

    It’s a hub for many people.

    The Vliho Yacht Club.

    As well as a bar, there’s hearty food served, you can get your washing done, have a shower and, most importantly, get your post delivered.

    Post isn’t just an issue for those on boats with no obvious address, there is no postal delivery service as we know it at home. Most people have their mail delivered to a shop near their home, or even in the next village. Try building an online shopping empire on that!

    Last night we camped on the roadside along from the Yacht Club, and had dinner with a few drinks there. This morning our clothes stink from the smoke, everyone else was smoking there, but other than that the calm view over the bay with all the yachts is another new one, and very good too.

    As Amanda just pointed out – while boat people may be sniffy about camper van people, they share the same principle but travel on a different medium. The camper van is generally more convenient, and what sells me is – the van has less string!

    With the temperatures still allowing sea swimming and beach days it feels incongruous to see the usual Christmas tat going up all around, but it’s very jolly.

    There’re a few days of rain forecast – there could be lots of reading, and dripping clothes from Polly walks.

    From the van door. Vliho, early morning.
    I don’t really do boats, but I like this one.

    4 Replies to “Cafés and beaches. The heart of Greece.”

    1. KC; some of those places bring to mind a man on a porch in a rocking chair smoking a gnarled old pipe, with tumbleweed rolling down the deserted street, the only sounds being the honky tonk piano from the nearby saloon bar.


      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        I’m sure the Greeks could play the blues!
        It’s the land where the old man is king. I reckon I’ll move here in another ten years to join them all.
        I suspect my love of the place would be considerably altered were I to see it in summer, crowded with Brits, Russians and the rest.

    2. Why’s Miss Polly packed away with the bits and pieces? She seems to have shrunk into the compartment!

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        When we were in the Scandi countries we noticed the Italians frequently pack their dogs in the back of their campers. It seemed unfair at first, but them we thought “Why not?” after all they don’t exactly take in the scenery.
        But of course Princess Polly won’t ever be stuffed into the little box in the back.

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