Near the mouth of the Corinth Canal fragrant pines provided enough shelter until morning when the early sun forced us up and back onto the road.
The canal is a feat of engineering completed by the French in 1893 but started by an incredibly ambitious Periander, tyrant of Corinth, 2500 years earlier.
To the east are the Greek oil refineries, and though they were miles away their creosote stench reached us often in the night.
Different countries determine their tolls in different ways. In Norway it’s by weight, but generally length and height are the important dimensions. In Greece it differs between regions. In the west ArchieVan qualified as a car, but elsewhere anything over 2.2m high pays the small lorry rate – and it’s punitive. 25 miles cost us €9, that’s about double what it cost in fuel.
Fortunately we won’t use many motorways, but we tried that stretch on the small roads last year and it wasn’t a good experience weaving through refinery world.
We’ve had a few interesting brushes with Roma, the most notable in Slovakia when we stumbled across a village and had no choice but to walk on through. It was fascinating. Here’s a link to that post.
Outside of the cities you rarely see Roma in Greece.
In Nafplio there’s a big family that lives in a van and an old railway carriage at the dock. We’ve met them on previous trips and beyond rather aggressive begging they don’t seem malicious, but they do put us on our guard.
With no cruise ship passengers to plunder they’ve been at a loss. The family hangs out at the beach most of the day where the impossibly beautiful kids play in the sea before availing themselves of the facilities. Then there’s a bit of evening duty working the few tourists in the town.
They’re interesting to watch (from a distance). A young mother of perhaps 14 organises a team of four near naked lads. She spots likely targets, and sends the most appropriate child to do his begging best.
Somehow I don’t fade into the background here. Once spotted the kids will sprint to get to me, stopping traffic with an outstretched arm.
Their persistence in asking for that €1 is laudable.
They each have the potential of being incredible business people. Then again, that’s just what they are.
Slam on the brakes.
Out she jumps.
Another creature from a long gone age is rescued from his plod across a busy road.
An old Greek fellow beeps his approval and gives Min a wave.
It was all too fast for photos.
This one came later, he was number four.
The Spring. Davlias.
We celebrate the moments when the temperature starts with a 2.
We need to gain height to find cool and the sleep we both crave.
A 100 mile drive felt like an endurance event. We saw 42.5° on the temperature gauge, 36° is now normal.
Our ace researcher read a story from folk fleeing Athens who found a spring above 500m near Davlias. It was en route (sort of). It became our target.
I’m sitting here now.
There’s shade from several mature plane trees. There’s cold mountain water thrusting its way up from the ground. The air is still hot, but it feels better, healthier.
Every few minutes a pickup driver will pull up to splash water over his head, and to fill a few bottles. Most engage me with a few questions, and all who do implore us not to go back to England.
VanLife. Water. Outside shower.
When you have to gather and carry your own water you become aware of its value.
Global water use is hard to consider when it’s there at the tap, with a pitifully small bill at the end of the month.
If you look at pictures of what used to be the Aral Sea you start to get the picture. It’s fast becoming a desert. That’s all because of cotton growing.
Floating in the 25°c Mediterranean is shocking too. It is far more saline, and therefore buoyant, than I remember. It’s fun. But it’s not good.
With all this in mind we have never used the van’s shower. A few minutes running the shower would empty our 65 litre tank. So we scrub ourselves clean at the sink, and luxuriate occasionally at a campsite.
Here at Davlias the water is literally forcing itself up through the paving stones, as well as gushing from the spring, hundreds of gallons an hour just flowing down the hill.
It’s not about to run out, so I decided to finally try our outside shower.
It’s a standard looking shower hose that fits a socket inside the rear doors and feeds from the tank giving hot or cold water. Where it’s not standard is that you need to hold the tap open, meaning that you only use the water you need rather than leaving it flowing.
It was brilliant!
A cold shower before bed, and I reckon I used less than 5 litres.
Hey, it has only taken us two and a half years to realise.
It’s Minty’s turn next.
There are photos. You don’t need to see them.
Some places are too good to pass up a second visit.
It was early February last year when we climbed high above Lamia to the mountain village of Eleftheochori (850m).
Back then my afternoon walk was curtailed by snow.
Our view stretched for miles.
We were the only customers on the opening night of the κάτωi Restaurant in the village.
On arriving the owner, Vangelis, told us his card machine didn’t work. Oh bugger. We scraped together all our cash and only had €25, but that was OK with him. We spent the evening eating, chatting and hitting tsiporo with Vangelis. We left as friends.
Back in the van we huddled together for warmth.
Now. For a week we’ve ensured our route will take us near enough to visit again.
Yesterday everything looked similar, except that it was 30 degrees warmer. This time my afternoon walk was curtailed by heat.
At the restaurant we were greeted as old friends. We had a shot of tsiporo to get things started as Vangelis regaled us with tales of his many cars and his love of his children’s village freedom. There was no mentioned of the V word.
The bill for our fabulous dinner? €25 (though in fact it must have been much higher, it was his sense of humour).
This morning we piled into his pick-up and headed higher into the mountains to visit the lake I’d twice tried to walk to. There we saw more cows than we’ve seen in our whole time in Greece. We often joke that we see more cow warning signs than actual cows.
We also saw three black storks. They’re endangered and these were the first we’ve seen against thousands of their white cousins.
He let me drive back. Yee ha! A pick-up is an essential tool!
We were sent on our way with a bottle of barrel-aged tsiporo made by a friend of his.
Greek hospitality delighted and stunned us yet again.
From the mountains to the sea to the mountains.
After Eleftheochori the only way is down, steeply down, for nine miles until you reach the plains again.
At the beach I chat with a Polish fellow who’d arrived the day before. It was a valuable reminder of our extreme good fortune to have been in Greece for so long. Janek was seeing the beauty through new eyes, experiencing the warm welcome for the first time, and swimming in the warm sea. He was blown away. The sense of paradise pricked his eyes with tears. I remembered feeling the same and reminded myself never to take it for granted.
Had we realised that it would be our last great Greek beach in who knows how long perhaps we’d have stayed another night.
On Monday we woke to cloud and decided to take advantage of the relative cool to cover 100 miles or so, aiming for a new mountain eerie.
Along the 85 miles of motorway I’d be surprised if we saw 85 cars.
How to increase the drama of the mountain road.
In case you ever get used to winding around the eternal switchbacks of the Greek mountains here’s how to inject additional spice. Drive an arrow straight road for 85 miles, then swing off and immediately tackle the climb. It was only 10 miles but there was barely 200m of straight. It’s hilarious.
We topped out at 1005m and suddenly the world was a very different place. Mixed forest, altitude and damp all brought the temperature plummeting to a comfortable level that we haven’t experienced in a long while.
Minty had identified a picnic area with spring, grill pits and shelters.
Google maps was unable to tell us of its other delights.
Although we’re by the road it’s quiet enough to let Polly roam. She soon introduced us to her new friend BillyBob.
How can a feral dog be so gentle? This fellow is a delight, even when there’s food, which he clearly doesn’t get enough of.
For all that he’s lovely he’s more broken than Polly.
BillyBob has a wanky leg and limps like our princess, his tail is but a memory, and he only has one good eye. You can count his ribs as he stands there. Yet he let Minty apply a flea and tick treatment that was too strong for our precious, he let her pull his ticks and give him a bit of a clean up.
On our forest walks he’d take his own shorts cuts, disappearing for minutes, only for us to round a bend and find him sitting, waiting, in the middle of our path.
He slept under the trees through the thunder storms that terrified Polly and that rolled around the mountains for an hour or more.
BillyBob. Even saying it feels nice.
Polly also found a crocodile.
I have no idea how tortoises became known as crocodiles to our van family, but it’s true. Today’s was the biggest we’ve seen so far and this one didn’t need rescuing. Minty sliced some cucumber for him, but he’d ran off by the time she got back. The lure of green fruit was too much for him and he soon came out of hiding to enjoy his fresh salad.
A walk in the woods.
I like a good stank, but I don’t feel that I’ve stretched my legs properly in a long while, the heat being too much for proper exercise. Here it was different and I wandered alone through the forest, entranced by the myriad shades of green, the butterflies, the tiny orchids, the roar of the river.
It was that river roar that made my next treat possible.
Looking ahead I spotted a family of boar piglets rooting through the undergrowth, unsteady on long spindly legs under bodies that already looked disproportionately heavy.
I stopped and watched for a minute or more before the adult appeared.
The piglets were very young, no bigger than Jack Russells.
The male wasn’t. He was the size of a small car, all squeals and snorts.
Queue silence. The birds stopped chirping. The insects stopped scratching.
Did the river stop too?
He’d make a mess of me if he charged. He could well weigh 130 kilos, and can run at 35mph. A boar’s fighting modus operendi is to crash into the side of its prey, tusking with their extra long incisors.
I broke the silence, shouting and waving my arms like a demented fool. I waved a huge stick, I shouted more.
Thankfully it had the desired effect. The giant pastrami crashed off into the undergrowth followed by his squealing brood.
Once they’d left all was calm again, the birdsong commenced anew, the butterflies flitted all around, camera shy but beautiful, and river flowed again.
As I write now a large butterfly has joined us in the van. What a privilege.
It’s hard to travel far in Europe’s most mountainous country without mountains or the sea dominating your view, often both at once, but after our descent from Karya we left the hills behind for a while.
The plains north west of Thessoloniki are pretty boring to drive through. Mile after mile of EuroCrops from which the heat beats back. The few towns seem wild places where they still eat tourists as a delicacy. This already feels like Eastern Europe.
Then suddenly, rising from the dust, there was Kilkis.
Approaching Kilkis it too looked boring. In fact it looked like it had been designed on a Soviet model with the big difference being that it was well built, and it’s clearly affluent. It’s a compact town of 20,000 people. The whole town comprises mid-rise apartment blocks of four to six floors, all gardens brimming with produce. Young aubergines are particularly beautiful glistening between the green.
Our spot on top of a small hill commanded a view over town and the surrounding countryside, including to the distant mountains of Northern Macedonia and Bulgaria.
The town was a complete surprise. Café Society is a big thing throughout Greece, but here it’s taken to the limit. Almost every building was a functioning business, no empty shops, almost every other business was a café. And they were ridiculously busy at 10.30 on this Wednesday morning.
How can so many people be out drinking coffee? Is it only the young who work?
I came here alone on our maiden voyage in October 2018, but it was a complete accident that took us to one of my camping spots by the large lake that’s a migration stop over for millions of birds every year.
Today at the lake there were a few pelicans, herons, terns, plenty of sparrows, but not much else.
On the lamp posts in the village are the first white stork families we’ve seen in twelve months. It’s an adventure watching them feed the young. They’re already massive birds. Parents even bring quantities of water in their crops. After feeding everyone has a big beak swordfight before settling down for a rest.
Street dogs of Greece.
There might not have been many migrating birds.
But there were puppies.
Had Minty made any hint of wanting to bring Zeus and Ellena back with us I’d have called the vet to book their passports.
Even Polly calmed down and took a mild interest despite doing her best to appear standoffish.
On our dusk walk through the village storks swooped down on their 10 foot wings, hunting the plentiful frogs and occasional crayfish from the stream.
This should be our last night in Greece.
We’ll miss this beautiful land. It’s warm generous people. The easy way of life. The utterly casual and often hilarious driving. The everyday hazards that would be covered in warnings at home. The democratic approach that gives you no clue to someone’s wealth or standing. The mountains. The sea. The free flowing Raki of Crete.
We could live here, but we’d need a well designed house that stayed cool through the heat of the day. We’d adopt the siesta.
We’ll be back. Hopefully soon.