After the delights of Delphi we headed north, soon to swing west and towards Lefkada, but not quite yet.
First we veered off the E65 for our overnight stay, up another mountain, on the edge of the village of Eleftherochoi. I took a stank up to another level, into deep snow, and remembered seeing a smoking chimney in the otherwise quiet village as we drove through earlier.
Back at village level I went to find the source of the smoke, and as if by magic, it turned out to be the charming Taverna Katoi. It looked most inviting, despite being empty. Now that’s quite something, so many places here, even good ones, rarely look inviting. Usually you just have to barge in and hope.
I poked my head in to check that they were open, I loved the welcome from the chef. So I went back to ArchieVan and invited my dinner partner.
This was to be a real treat. We were planning a meagre fare meal of grubs and weeds, and probably dry too. Dinner at Katoi was nothing of the sort!
Back at Katoi we met Vangelis, the owner. He explained that he’d only opened a few days before. Excellent. We love new.
We scraped together all the cash we had in the van just in case they didn’t take cards, and sure enough he doesn’t have a card machine yet. After he’d told us that we were a bit worried. We emptied our cash onto the table to count how much we had. Once we’d got past €25 Vangelis said “Hey, don’t worry, we can feed you well for that!”
And did they feed us well? Oh yea baby! It was great. As was the banter with Vangelis, and the rako melo (spelling?), a Cretian raki with honey.
These guys are going to be a big success.
Katoi – set for big things.
Katoi – there’s no website, but the village is so small you shouldn’t miss it. There’s a well lit outside dining area, and the restaurant is underneath.
The Greeks apparently have a huge capacity for falling out among themselves, but they are great hosts and we have been well received everywhere we have been. If only I could learn the language quicker.
A hot bath, with others!
Leaving Eleftherochoi it’s a 10 or so mile drive downhill to Lamia. Time to prepare for another city and their totally ambivalent attitude to road safety. Once in town cars approached on the wrong side of the road. Drivers generally ignored street lights. Normal looking people ambled down the road oblivious to traffic. Roundabouts were a free for all.
After a Lidl visit we scuppered. We were soon at the baths of Ypati Healing Springs. €4 each and we joined the three others in a large outdoor pool of sulphurous healing waters that emerge from the ground at 38 degrees. Hey, it’s OK this communal bathing business, but better still was the scorching hot shower afterwards. Oh yea, we’re scrubbed clean and shining baby!
Climbing has been a theme over the past week and now we’re at the ski resort of Karpenisi.
What? We were bathing in an outdoor pool earlier, and now there are rich Athenians swishing by in their ski gear. Weird.
This place gets referred to as Little Switzerland. Well, it is up a hill with snow. But the similarity ends there.
Camping. In town.
Some nights you have to camp in town.
Generally that’s OK. Sometimes it’s pretty odd.
Getting up to this village took us over 2100m. Snow was piled high on the roadside and the temperatures were low. It was already the end of the afternoon and that low temperature was only going to drop. We weren’t going away further.
Like most ski villages, most of the roads are on a serious slope. As soon as we spotted a flat bit we swooped ArchieVan into a small space and breathed a sigh of relief. It’ll be our camp site for the night.
Outside the traffic zooms by our little house. A gang of kids hangs out as kids do. The dogs who call the bus station home set up a yowl now and then. It won’t be a quiet night. But it’s part of the tapestry.
Church and coffee.
After a noisy night we dragged ourselves out into a crystal clear cold Sunday morning. Fortunately we were sat in the cafe just before church turned out. Within a few minutes of sitting down and our coffees arriving (accompanied by a range of little cakes which everyone received) the large cafe filled with smart people desperate to resume talking after an hour in church.
Back on the road the scenery unfolded even more delights. Deep gorges, snowy mountains. Fast flowing freezing looking rivers and the crazy coloured water of the Techniti Limni Kremaston dam.
We only drove for two and a half hours, and in that time covered just 50 switchback miles. It was spectacular, and exhausting. When I spotted a little hidden lay-by I knew it had to be home for the night. We were done in, by the concentration, and the simple joy of absorbing so much beauty.
Nicopolis. Victory city.
Nicopolis sits just a few kilometres north of Lefkada. It’s the largest ancient city in Greece. We passed it several times at the end of last year, but didn’t visit.
Now we’re better at seeing cultural attractions and hitting the brakes. We’ll take a look at stuff. Hey, we’ve even taken (massive) detours to see places. That might be what people do in general, but it’s not our usual style.
Nicopolis is a beauty. And in typical Greek style it’s utterly understated. There are a few brown signs. Much of it is fenced off. The ticket office is locked up and looks as if it has been for a very long time. The city was built to celebrate Roman emperor Octavian’s victory over Antony and Cleopatra – imagine that, win a battle and build a city in commemoration of your skill.
There are massive walls stretching for hundreds of metres, a wonderful odeon (theatre) that we couldn’t get into, and a more traditional theatre down the road. At the sports stadium a shepherd showed his deep respect for the import of the site by grazing his sheep in the two thousand year old arena.
For the love of a beach.
The beautiful and familiar Lefkada is just down the road, but we’ll save that for tomorrow when we’re refreshed and ready. Tonight we’re on the several mile long beach just north of Preveza. It’s simple. There’s little here. And it’s beautiful. Happy days!
Valentine’s Day. We woke to warm sun streaming across Ammousa Beach. Butter fried mushrooms, chilli eggs, toast, good coffee. It doesn’t get better.
Later we’ll dine at Alex’s in Vasiliki. It’s not much more than a marquee with a wood burner, but it serves good pizza, and Minty loves both pizza and Vasiliki. That will suit us just fine.
And Valentine’s cards? Well fortunately there’s no postal service out here and so there’s no likelihood of a sack of cards from unknown admirers!
The Fins drink more coffee per person than any other nation.
But I suspect that the Greeks consume more caffeine. Finnish coffee is pish, they even refer to it as dishwater themselves. Here in Greece though it’s strong stuff. It makes you sit up and pay attention.
I’ve learnt that the retirement age for men is 58, and those who managed to secure their pre-chaos pensions will have retired on as high as 96% of their final salary. No wonder there are so many old boys in the cafes all the time. The question remains though – are they keeping out of the way, or are they avoiding something?
The Nearly Home Trees.
Back on Lefkada there are things we want to do, places we want to see. We’ll make the most of a few days here, but our minds are on the big drive ahead. How apt then to see St Just artist Richard Guy‘s latest picture online. The Nearly Home Trees are known and loved by every Cousin Jack (any Cornishman away from home). They’re just on the Devon side of the all important border.
Next week I’ll write a review of our winter in Greece. It has been a fabulous experience, and we’re already talking of repeating it.