New Year. New Goals.
I like reading inspirational stuff. Who doesn’t?
Because of the nature of much of my online reading I get lots of emails at this time of the year offering “Breakthrough ideas” that will help me achieve my goals for next year.
Well, for years my goals were two fold.
One: Run our business in such a way that it was loved by all its users.
Two: Hammer the mortgage until it shrivelled up and died.
And between us we worked damn hard to ensure we delivered on both.
Then the goals shifted to the design and creation of ArchieVan.
It wasn’t as smooth or easy as we hoped it would be, but we got there in the end, and we love it. We frequently ask each other what we’d change – and there isn’t much. It still makes me grin when I climb up to the driver’s seat.
Now there’s a new year around the corner and we’re considering 2019.
The priorities are:
- When our family has left after Christmas we’ll take Billie, our little borrowed car, back up to its owner. He has been brilliant and we’re sure to search out a Panda if we end up living somewhere like this.
- After cleaning the house and leaving it better than we found it, we’ll head to Athens, via the Peloponnese, and get a ferry to Crete.
- We hope to stay on Crete for January – then it gets fun…
- Polly needs to have her second operation in Poprad, Slovakia in late February. It snows around then in central and Eastern Europe. Lots.
- Whether we make that appointment or not, we then need to get back to England in March for ArchieVan’s MoT.
- Then we head off again. We’ll start with a slow German tour. We love the country and want to make it a destination rather than a transit route, enjoying great beer, wine, food and hospitality.
There we go. I’ve written it. So we’ll do it.
And after that? Hopefully we’ll head further east.
We planned it in the Yacht Club on Sunday afternoon, using the paper tablecloth as our flip chart.
Yacht Club Sunday Lunch.
I hold my hand up.
I jumped to conclusions. I judged people. And I was wrong.
On Sunday I cycled, and Minty drove, to Vliho, to the Yacht Club, for Sunday lunch.
What a ride.
It was four painful miles up hill. A hill that I’m still far from comfortable with.
It was less bad than previous rides, but to say that it’s getting easier would give completely the wrong impression. I still feel as if all my organs want to leave my body as I struggle up the gradient. That my eyes will pop out and my legs burst. But then suddenly you’re at the top of the hill, and that means there’s only one way to go.
Long sweeping bends.
My fastest mile averaged 45mph, 72kmph.
For a whole mile!
We don’t drive Billie as fast as that.
And at the club, while the smokers occupied the front room, lunch was served for about 25 people in the back. Most of them English. Most of them from the yacht club at Lefkas. All of them up for a laugh.
A happy bunch of folk who’d left their cares in England long before.
We bantered with Tony and Pat, a couple who’ve been living life to the full for many years. They’ve moored their yacht for the winter in Nidri, and have a motorhome to tour in too. Logistics must be a challenge at times, but great. We’ll see them again at Christmas.
And the lunch? That was good too.
Vasiliki. Agio Filli. Porto Katsiki. Beautiful beaches of Lefkada. It’s all in a vanner’s week.
There are days when we stank for hours.
And there are days when our legs ache, or our head aches, or we simply don’t feel like it.
On Monday we took on a cracking walk from Vasiliki through olive groves, scrumping oranges here and there, passing shrines, churches, and the occasional herd of goats and scraggy sheep.
It was to be a Vasiliki week. We were back on Tuesday to walk around the coast to little Agio Filli, just a few kms from Vasiliki, with some seriously expensive looking villas on the way.
While some of the villas look truly spectacular, and they have the most amazing views, I don’t see the attraction of being isolated way up a hillside and having to drive every time you do anything. I do understand though that not everyone shares my desire to walk several miles every day.
On Wednesday evening we’d be back in Vasiliki, but first we drove out to beautiful Porto Katsiki to absorb the splendour of this rather isolated beach. The road down to Porto Kasiki from Athani is very long and very winding, with frequent vistas across some of the beaches that are currently inaccessible. Along it there are perhaps twenty stalls selling honey, olive oil, and local wines, the whole lot looks delicious, and I bet summer trade is good.
At Porto Kasiki we bantered with a couple of French vanners who were equally in love with Greece as we are. We don’t meet enough French – it’s good to break out the only other language that we can get by in.
We stayed at the beach until sunset – wow!
And then drove through the fast falling light with beautiful skies that had us promising to do it all again.
Later we parked up on the sea front back in Vasiliki and went for Minty’s first pizza in a very long time. Alex’s Italian has a traditional wood fired oven and he serves pizza and pasta dishes along with Greek grills. The pizza was huge and good, serving us for dinner on the next night too, and my pork souvlaki was great. There weren’t many sitting in, but the takeaway trade seemed to keep things ticking over making it worth being the only place in town that’s open in the evenings all year.
Alex’s was the second place where I’ve seen fan boosted woodburners. He was heating a large marquee type space with what was no more than a large household woodburner, except with an extractor unit in the flue providing a heck of a lot more draft. The heat from it was amazing. The food was good too.
Philogrobolized in Vasiliki.
I seem to be unwittingly breaking my own drink habit.
While I am definitely not going to claim that I have stopped, I am just as definitely sure that I am drinking less.
That’s not a bad thing. I like drinking. I like all sorts of drinks. But the likelihood of a few too many knocking me for six seems to have increased dramatically of late.
With our pizza we enjoyed a litre of rough, cheap, and tasty red. We’d had an ouzo and a beer before. Not modest, but not silly either. And spread over many hours. Generally that wouldn’t impact on the next day, but Thursday was pretty much a write off.
Usually I insist on being the one to walk Polly first thing in the morning.
Yesterday I couldn’t get up.
At 8.30 after half a cup of tea I shut my eyes again and woke sometime in the afternoon.
If that happens only now and then (and that was my first knockout on this trip) then it’s not so bad. Like the time it took to recover from my fall a couple of weeks back, I guess it’s age taking its toll.
143 million olive trees.
Back to Monday. We ate some of the scrumped oranges en route (huge, sweet, and pleasingly easy to peel), and took the rest home to juice. Delicious (nostimos). Picking any citrus from the tree leaves the fruit oils on your hands – the smell is intoxicating, making them even more tempting.
Other than our petty theft, along the walk we pondered the olive growing process.
Olive trees mature slowly. Very slowly. Groves are passed down through generations. Trees planted now are unlikely to bear meaningful fruit for the generation that plants them – yet still they plant. How lovely is that?
The fruit is shaken or beaten from the trees at the end of the autumn. This is hard work, and collecting the results looks back breaking, even with the nets they use to catch the olives.
Then the trees are pruned.
Pruning sounds like a precise and careful process – but with olives trees it’s done with a chain saw. The wood is so dense and hard it’d be extremely difficult any other way. Most of the time we’ve been here we’ve heard the roar of chain saws wherever we have been outside of the towns.
The wood is excellent for fires, it’s dense and so slow burning, and smells great too. Some growers seem very organised with it while others just have huge fires destroying the off cuts as they work.
After the pruning there doesn’t seem as if there’s much more to do until the next winter, other than keep the ground vaguely tidy. That used to be the job of sheep and goats roaming the hillsides, but they are less plentiful than in years gone by.
The sheer volume of olive trees is hard to comprehend. They are not the only trees on the hills, but they are far and away the majority. A quick look online suggested many figures, with 143 million cropping up most often. That’s about 13 trees for every person, yet even that feels low when considering the countryside we’re used to on Lefkada.
The title was purely for the alliteration, Archie is most definitely a van.
Having finally dragged myself from the pit of philogroboli on Thursday we drove only a few kilometres to the evening’s campsite, the car park of the Monastery of Ayios Georgios, Marandochori.
This place is within walking distance of home, but being a few kilometres inland it’s so very different.
The monastery seemed unoccupied, but well kept. There are hundreds like this across Greece, mostly simple churches, but occasionally bigger more exciting places such as those we saw at Meteora.
It’s up a narrow winding lane that’s only just wide enough for ArchieVan, but as soon as we’d turned off the engine the feeling of peace descended. The monastic folk chose their locations well, here the view could grace any tourist brochure.
A stank into the hills through the gloaming brought me face to face with a family of wild boar – we both went back this morning to see them again. Shy, snuffly creatures, with the luxury of a couple of acres of woodland to root around in.
So there we were. Parked outside Ayios Georgios. By eight pm it was utterly silent. A dark sky. No wind. Perfect. It’s hard to go back to use the house when the opportunities to stay out all around us are so good. In fact we ended up staying out on the next night too.
House versus van.
It may seem like a foolish move, renting a house, but being out on the road several nights a week.
I guess it may be, but nonetheless the villa has served us well. It has anchored us to an area and I’ve loved getting to know a place in a lot more detail. Knowing the house is there to go back to, knowing we can have friends come to stay has been good. We’ve been able to completely clear out the van, we’ve repaired a few bits, and cleaned everything. We’ve always had easy access to a hot shower, washing machine and more normal cooking facilities.
On Friday Amanda’s step dad Rick will join us. I’ll catch the bus to Athens to meet my mum and sister. It’ll take me longer to get there from Lefkada than it will take them from Bristol.
And the house will comfortably swallow us all.
We’re all hoping that we’ll get a few clear days during which we can show them the beauty of this magical place we have called home for a couple of months.
Then, in another week, it’ll be time to move on.