Philogrobolised on Sarti Beach.
Last week we made Sarti after searching for anything open that would fuel our Friday night.
Sarti proved just the ticket. A small town with a great beach. And most importantly, a year round population.
There were a few grills open, a pizza place, coffee shops, in fact more than we’ve seen in a while.
And they’re all delighted when someone new walks in.
Minty chose a cool joint. Run by a biker with a beard that made mine look like stubble. It was scruffy. It was busy. Old boys supped their tsipouro. Everyone watched TV (it’s what happens here). We ordered. We ate like kings.
At 5am I woke. I knew immediately all was not well.
I staggered along the beach in the dark, knowing that I’d have to void the poison within. There was no elegance.
It took the whole of Saturday to recover, though Minty was right as rain.
My compensation as I groaned from my bed was raising myself on an elbow, enough to see the majestic Mount Athos fill the window. Like Fuji, or Kilimanjaro, it wears a wreath of cloud. In the evening sun it’s pink. The mountain rises 2000+m direct from the sea. And in the dark you can see some of the monasteries around its base.
A lost day. It’s when Minty met Wilbur, and cuddled him the whole day through.
A little life came back after a cold shower at a (closed) beach bar. A Greek walking past wrapped up in coats, hat and scarves couldn’t stop laughing.
Sithonia sits up there with my Greek favourites of The Mani and Lefkada. There can’t be a number one, each has something different to offer.
The Mani stands on its own. Arid. Barren. Rugged. With a tumultuous past that’s remembered in its many towers. Even now it’s a hard place.
Lefkada is Greece in miniature. High mountains. Jaw droppingly beautiful beaches. Some flat areas. But despite what the guides tell you, it is quite built up and suffers from that particularly Greek syndrome of hundreds of part built skeleton villas.
Sithonia might be a little more like Cornwall. It’s largely granite instead of the usual limestone. There are many tiny beaches and bays, and not a lot of built up anything. With strong legs, or a Fiat Panda I reckon you could find solitude here at any time of the year. Almost all of the inland area is forested. The east is more rugged and both sides have only one town.
I’ve said so much about the huge but benign dogs that roam the streets and countryside.
After we’d installed ourselves at the end of this great beach and set up home for the night I took a walk, for the view, for the exercise and for the thinking time.
Half an hour into the walk I needed to pass a house that jutted into the water. I’d have to get my timing right between the minimal waves, but at worse I’d get wet feet.
I’d seen the brindle bitch lying in the courtyard and I expected a reaction. After all, it’s unlikely anyone had passed for the whole day and she’d be surprised at a stranger invading her territory.
I hadn’t imagined anything like what I got though.
She was ferocious. Her barking wasn’t sounding off. It was gums back, teeth barred, utter mental howls spitting anger and hate.
She came in fast. Bit. Then drew back. I felt it on my calf, but I guess adrenaline was rushing through me too by now.
After some shouting I thought she’d withdrawn. But then suddenly she was coming back. At speed. Again she bit. Same calf. Same place.
Thankfully I was wearing my engine drivers’ dungarees that are forged of a denim only slightly more gentle than steel. Had I been bare legged as is usual I’d have taken a serious gash. As it was there were just a few teeth that got through my skin.
After the attack I realised the only route home that didn’t cross her path again was a walk of several miles. I didn’t need convincing that the walk would be good for me.
For an hour I entertained the concept of driving this behemoth road roller back to St Just.
I envisaged a six month journey. Towing a small trailer that’d be my living quarters, with space for Plato and Ulysses, the two Greek mountain sheep dog puppies I’d find en route.
We’d stop at schools where I’d give a talk about life on the road. The kids could paint the roller as I lunched with their teachers.
Amanda and I would meet at good hotels along the way. I’d luxuriate in the bath, scrubbing off layers of road grime (probably essential before she’d give me a kiss). Minty would have to explain to the reception desk that her husband’s transport is unconventional.
I’d need to fashion a seat, perhaps a bar stool, for it’s designed to be driven standing up. There’s just about room for a short term passenger, although I doubt hitchhikers will be tempted.
The biggest challenge might be convincing the Chanel Tunnel, or a ferry, to let me board.
The book. The film.
Psakoudia, and the pizza for her.
The tempting road roller was in Psakoudia, our base for Monday night, a village at the head of the inlet between the peninsulas of Cassandra and Sithonia. Mount Athos has disappeared from view, but now we have the snow capped Mount Chortistis across the water.
There’s beach in both directions for as far as we can see. Disappointingly it’s the first we’ve seen this year that’s strewn with litter away from the town. There is no excuse for litter in this country, there are huge bins everywhere, yet still stuff gets dumped, sometimes right by the bin. What’s that about?
And there’s a single bar open. And we need its facilities as well as its product.
It’s amicable, the football’s on (I have never yet watched a whole match, but hopefully there’s time), and there’s a gorgeous old terrazzo floor in a dark green with bits of pink, edged in grey marble.
Outside a couple of men sit over coffees and tsipouro at seats overlooking the beach and the distant mountains. Their conversation looks serious. Most conversations in this country look serious.
Our barman walks through with a pizza held aloft. He takes it to their table. Mr Thin points behind him at a car. And the pizza is delivered to his wife (?) sitting in the car. Oh how I’d love to spin a story from the imagined circumstances surrounding the scene. It’s a man’s world in this country, and it’s not changing fast.
The Thin Greek.
Mr Thin above was indeed thin.
We frequently ask ourselves how any Greek can be thin.
We take our pick from the diet, cooking the majority of our meals en van. When we eat out we’ll often share what for them would be a single dish. We’ll also have just that dish, rather than something before, something after, and then a sugar and honey laden dessert.
To watch them pour sugar into their coffee is enough to send my teeth on holiday. The quantities of meat must challenge the most industrial bowel. But it’s the fabulous baclava that delivers the final blow, sending the calories to a level that makes you question the decimal point. I love baclava. It’s honey, nuts and shredded wheat, how could you not love it? But after all they ate before?
“Greek salad and some bread?” Ah yes, that’s our dinner for two. Thank you.
When Minty Met Harry.
Anyone who has read more than a couple of Greek posts will realise that my girlfriend rather likes cats. There have been many have have stolen her heart. Today’s romantic thief was Harry.
As we left Mr Thin’s bar Harry worked his charms to win a cuddle. Harry was no ordinary cat though. He walked a kilometre or more back to the van with no encouragement. Harry was no stray. His immaculate coat smelt of perfume, and he clearly wears a collar at times.
At the van he was treated to biscuits and I wasn’t surprised to come back from my morning Polly walk to see him in her arms again.
Later Mr Chunk, a Labrador/Retreiver, and a bit of something else came along hungry for cat. He chased Harry under the van, but his girth wouldn’t allow him to continue pursuit in that direction. Chunk was determined though and took to crashing himself into the front bumper, hoping for some give.
After a while we became bored/worried by Chunk’s cat obsession and we left early, in part to protect the van from his bull like thrusts.
In Sweden We Trust.
Remember a couple of weeks back we were trapped at Zampetas, the motorhome dealership where we hoped to have the batteries replaced? While we were there Minty was on a deep downer and planned a solo bus trip to Ikea simply for a familiar experience. She didn’t go. She did recover.
En route back towards Athens we’d pass the Swedish House again. We decided we’d visit and buy Christmas decorations.
Hey. All you who laugh at us for that, I do understand. But just think, in the far west of Cornwall you can go on a bus trip to our nearest Ikea a couple of hundred miles away in Bristol. A bus trip! So you can’t even buy anything bigger than a hot dog.
Of course we had meatballs. Of course they were delicious.
The Ginger Lothario Strikes Again.
Back at the van I was busy assembling ArchieVan’s Christmas tree. Minty was packing a few decorations. I heard a seagull squawk, but Minty heard it as a cat’s squeak.
I got down on my hands and knees. Looked under the van. And said “Hello Harry.”
The crazy ginger lover tom had somehow secreted himself under the van. He’d travelled over 50 miles along country lanes and motorways. He’d waited, stock still, for however many hours we wasted in mini Sweden, and it was only as we were near ready to set off again that he made his presence known.
Hey ho. For the second time in a fortnight we travelled well over a hundred miles in a day, only to end up within walking distance of where we started. Harry was made comfortable in a storage crate in the back.
When dropped off with his mates he immediately held court on his day trip to distant Thessaloniki. His mates didn’t believe him.
Don’t Mention The War.
Usually when we meet a Greek who wants to talk political history they can’t wait to express their gratitude for Churchill’s insistence that Greece sat to the west of the Iron Curtain.
Tonight our interlocutor in a Nea Poteidaia bar had no praise for Britain. Our drunken friend wanted to express his anger at Britain for favouring Turkey over his country. The challenges of language and our knowledge of the subject meant that a potentially interesting conversation instead drove us from the bar.
It was a shame. But Minty’s stir fried rice with a fiery mixed vegetable sauce, ginger and chilli was compensation. I didn’t take a picture of tonight’s feast, but remember my frozen peas story? Here’s Wednesday’s breakfast omelette.
Were it not for having to take Harry home we wouldn’t have made it to Kassandra. The need to cover some miles, and every description of it making it sound like one long holiday resort helped us decide to give the third peninsula miss. Nea Poteidaia is at the top, just south of the canal dug by the Corinthians more 2500 years ago. The remains of the town’s Byzantian city walls are the first ancient artefacts we’ve seen in a long time.
Castle on a hill. Pantelemion.
We nipped back to Zampetas on the way through Thessaloniki and made a visit to the excellent grill up the road, then followed the coast until we were heading south again.
Wild beaches are as beautiful in winter as any other time.
Beach resorts look interesting, but sad.
We’d pulled up at a couple of resorts but were dampened by their lachrymony.
At Pantelemion the beach was depressed, but high on the hill was a castle, and there there was joy. We parked underneath its mound, and strode the steps to its town, alighting in its namesake Taverna Castello.
Now in these parts £16 for a couple of beers and a fine large brandy might be considered expensive, but as it happens the range of snacks offered to help the libations settle was such that dinner was hardly necessary. Almonds, roasted chickpeas, dried fruits. We were delighted already. Then our host brought meats, cheese and chutneys.
Better still. Our first good sleep in a while.
Sweaty on Pelion Jam.
Our December target, and home for Christmas, is the island of Evia. The last interesting bit of coast before we get there is the Pelion, home of the Centaurs.
The small university port city of Volos receives visitors on cruise ships, and those en route to the Sporades islands. Up the hill are the first of the Pelion’s villages.
Up the hill? Chuffin’ chuff. We haven’t been up a hill like this in a while. About 16 kms of ridiculously steep switchbacking climb through tiny lanes, then suddenly a coach would appear. Thankfully we rejected a Google short cut that offered a 1:4 up a cobbled street.
The village of Portaria brings the houses closer to the road and we get that feeling of being a rider in the Tour de France, but it’s at Makrinitsa that things get really tight.
There’s a big drop to the left, with no barrier. Shops to the right with produce narrowing the narrow street. There’s a pick-up coming straight at us. There are plenty of cars behind him. The road is about 2.5m wide. The van is 2.2m.
I haven’t done the in a while. I can see my calm angels throwing themselves off the edge of the cliff. Their demon replacements descend on ropes, shooting adrenaline and the acrid sweat of fear. It’s tense.
I switch off. Get out to look behind and consider.
Minty directs as I inch ArchieVan backwards into a nothing space. A calm shop keeper winds his awning in to give us an extra few inches. He has seen it all before.
Jam. You think that was jam?
The pick-up has gone. But what now?
We were heading for a car park at the top of the village. A small, busy, car park.
Greek style respects no rules. Cars are slewed all over. Every well designed turning space has something parked across it.
With Minty alerting me to a clear run with no hidden oncoming cars we get the van into the car park, but the only way out is the way we came in. Spinning a 7m beast on a sixpence, dracma or 5 cent piece takes not skill but magic.
Somehow with the help of two banksmen, Minty and a friendly Greek, we made the magic happen. Suddenly ArchieVan was facing the right way and our simple task was to navigate through the new fools falling into the trap we’d shaken free of.
It has been a while since we were last in quite such a tense situation. It’s bound to happen now and then. It’s just a shame that this was also in the first busy place we’ve been to in ages. I was knackered driving up the hill, super alert through manoeuvres, and drained afterwards.
I was due to cook.
I’d even soaked chick peas and beans.
Sod that. We walked up the road to the excellent Kritsa Hotel where for the first time in Greece there was the possibility that the place might be full. Dinner was truly rewarding, well priced and hit the spot. The cafe was in the village square, under the most massive plane tree. It felt a lot like Christmas.
We were even tempted to ask for a room.
Tomorrow we’ll tackle the Pelion. Tonight we’ll sleep on full bellies, we might even go back for breakfast.
For eleven consecutive nights we slept within 10m of the sea. We’ve had several days of good sunshine. And for a whole week (take note Polly) there has been no thunder.
Life is good!