Turner skies over Kathisma.
Three days drift aimlessly by.
Early swims and late swims. Unheated showers at a bar where the water is still running. The invigorating kick of cold water, salty, then fresh.
Polly wanders free, ambling along to see our German neighbours, but not brave enough to visit the French guy a bit further down the beach.
We walk the mile to the bar at the far end of the track. It’ll be closed, but we’re prepared. On arrival we set out Lloyd Loom chairs around a cable drum table and toast with chilled Lambrusco whilst gorging on Cheese Flips*.
After a difficult first week in Greece came three days of joy at my favourite beach outside of Cornwall.
A storm is due, heralded by Turner skies over Kathisma.
We need to be away early tomorrow, we’re so happy to be here tonight.
The replacement leisure batteries were due on Thursday, then Friday, then there was a chance they’d arrive on Saturday.
Three days on Kathisma, where the nearest (open) retail establishment is several miles away, have helped prepare for the shock to the budget. Leisure batteries are £200+ each, and we need two.
We dined for two nights on a fiery dahl with the heat coming from an excess of wonderfully fresh ginger. Minty finished the portion making a breakfast of champions, serving the last with a fried egg and honeyed toast. The honey on toast with spicy curry was a genius move that we’ll repeat, perhaps with chapatti.
Thunder, all through the night.
This dog that’s scared of thunder has a distinct reluctance to pee when the sky is rent by purple light and the gods trade blows with celestial weapons. I dash her outside during a momentary pause of the lashing rain in the hope that she’ll understand the urgency, the brief window of opportunity. No matter how I plead with her, her expression never wavers from “What the hell are we doing out here now?” Thankfully her ability to shut down her bodily functions exceeds anything any human could contemplate. Sometimes next morning she’ll walk for ages before squatting to pee, more than twelve hours since her last transaction.
Corporate Kelvin versus The Beard.
Of a morning, as I scrub my boxers in whatever available water source, I often think of the Kelvin of old being told that this was his chosen future.
In a banker’s tower over Canary Wharf I’d don a crisp new shirt every day, ironed with military precision. My Paul Smith suits were replaced by Crombies as my expanding girth became inappropriate for the former. My most English shoes were polished daily. Even my socks were a considered choice.
I was guilty of thinking myself important.
Now clothes are washed when they need it, or perhaps a day or two later, and they’re usually scrubbed by hand. Our limited selection is worn until the holes take up more room than the fabric, and even then we’re reluctant to part with favourites.
Even so, I can’t pretend to have left vanity behind. I still carry my favourite brogues and I love to pull them on now and then to walk an inch or so taller.
This week we picked oranges from the tree for the first time this winter.
Everything is a little later this year and the citrus trees mostly still carry blossom. My god it smells good!
When crashing through the undergrowth I came across tomatoes. Tiny cherry toms with an intense flavour.
My prized scrump of the week was a pretty little chilli. Minty cooked him tonight and he was fiery as hell. He was growing beside a beach shower where I had a morning shiver.
Lemons. We need lemons. But they’re not ripe yet.
The fourth morning on Kathisma dawned warmer and brighter and it felt like our stay there could go on for a long time.
But it was to be our last.
Our faith ran out. We decided that the batteries weren’t arriving anytime soon and that we needed a different plan.
A call to a motorhome specialist in Thessaloniki sounded promising, he reckons he can get us sorted out next day. And so I take a last swim, a last cold shower, and we’re off.
It sounds simple doesn’t it?
But Thessaloniki is about 300 miles away. That’s like leaving home in St Just to nip up to Birmingham for a battery.
It’s now day two of the drive. It’s exciting to be on the move again, though we both felt a dread at leaving all that we know behind again so soon.
Today the motorway through Macadonia took us higher and higher, often above 1100m, but still the real Zagori mountains scrape the sky before us. The empty road goes through tunnel after tunnel and would have cost a fortune to build. We entered one particular tunnel in late summer warmth, and popped out the other end in deep winter chill with the clouds enveloping us.
The little village of Neraida is perched high above a reservoir with Mount Olympus looming in the distance.
We parked near the lake and hiked 2 kms or so up to the village, hoping to find some hearty fare. The smell of grilled lamb on the chill air had us salivating.
We found a bar with an amazing view, and their description of the food was tempting.
It ended up being Greece’s biggest culinary disappointment. A poorly cooked Iceland Party Pack would have been better. But hey ho, it did the job and we enjoyed the view.
Minty brought half of the food back for Limpy the semi-wild dog that lives near our parking space (they’re mostly limpy and they’re mostly called Limpy). Gentle Limpy became wolf dog once the food went down and quickly scoffed the lot while Polly looked on dismayed at her lack of manners.
Surprisingly Limpy didn’t seem to differentiate between the crispy chicken and the fish gougons, or even the tissue that it all came on. Perhaps not eating the tissue was our mistake in the restaurant.
She was treated to dog food once Polly and I had left the scene.
Many of the street dogs are as fat as a British Labrador, but today’s Limpy looked like she’s having a tough time making a living off scraps. Although she kept her distance, she was clearly grateful for Minty’s intervention.
Mountains to the plains.
On the west coast of Greece, and right down through much of the Peloponnese, you’re never far from a mountain. The scenery changes all the time, and the driving is demanding.
Leaving the west and heading over the Zagori range we were treated to Greek autumn as the olives don’t grow this high and the tree cover is deciduous. Colour is concentrated here, a riot of yellows and oranges that brighten the hazy air. Another treat was a warning of bears, though we didn’t see any.
Then suddenly you’re descending the last hill, mile upon mile of gradual height loss, and then nothing. For as far as we can see it’s flat for the first time since somewhere in Italy. Sad cherry denuded trees march in every direction. Many of these trees that are irrigated all summer now stand in water and the farmers fret about their rotting roots.
Greece doesn’t do retail like northern European countries.
In our many months here we have seen few shops that sell anything other than essentials.
Approaching Thessaloniki that changes completely. The ring road is forty kms of almost endless shopping centres, concept stores and car retailers. Little of it looks inspiring and it saps our spirit.
Arriving at Zampetas Van World we’re tired and down hearted.
Our man suggests we plug in. To give the batteries full charge before he tests them. We settle for the night. In the morning he gives us the news we expected. We need to replace both.
We should get the bus to Thessaloniki, but we’re a bit low on enthusiasm. It’ll pass. We know it will. We can visit the town when we’re feeling perkier.
What other people carry.
The huge advantage of a motorhome over a van conversion is space. A mo is big on the outside, and most have a decent storage space, referred to as a garage, at the back. It’s great watching folk diving into their garage and giving us a brief insight into their lives.
A couple next to us are in an amazing 9m motorhome, and they need to empty everything to clean up after a leak. We try not to let our jaws drag as the stuff comes out.
Table and chairs we expected. They’re the things we’d most like to carry if we had room. Our ironing board will take some finding even when we next live in a house. The pressure washer is something we’d borrow should a need ever arise. The boxes and boxes of food baffled us – there are shops everywhere. We heard mention of a washing machine, and yes, they carried one of those too. Two ladders – great, I need to borrow a set to check my roof repairs. There was even an outdoor space heater contraption.
Theirs is a very different take on van life, and when the weather is bad I bet they have a better time, but I like to believe that weather is mostly down to state of mind. The take everything approach is neither better or worse, just different. I wonder what they’d think of our meagre provisions, and I wonder which of us eats better.
I can’t hide my envy when he parks the beast and self levelling pads drop to adjust for inconsistencies of surface. No roll together for them at night.
We’ve become accustomed to promised deliveries not happening so we’re amazed when Alexander, the boss of Zampetas, comes to find us just a few hours after his diagnosis to say our power boxes have arrived.
£500 later and the new Banner batteries are wired in and charging. We’re free to leave in the morning.
East is East.
Halkidiki is the region east of Thessaloniki that includes the three peninsulas. All the van folk we meet seem to have travelled the three and all were thrilled.
It’s a dull day as we pulled away from Zampetas, and we’re glad to be away from the city.
The roads feel like we’re heading for the end of the world. A scattering of truly scratty villages, all looking worse for the heavy rains of the night before. Rivers are in flood. The sea is orange with the wash of soil.
The floods get more severe and often roads have a skim of several inches of soil and branches. There are JCBs scraping the mud back.
At one point the fire crew are just pulling away from working on a bridge where full trees had blocked the river course sending the water deep over the road. We hear about how soil is washed away at home. Here it’s more obvious. Every obstacle holds a pile of debris against the flow.
There don’t seem to be any vans east of Thessaloniki.
We started at the furthest point. The town of Stratoni on the Athos peninsula.
Everyone had told us of the beauty of Halkidi. It’s currently hard to imagine it when the sea’s not boiling and loaded with flotsam, but hopefully that’s something we’ll see before we leave.
Stratoni had a distinct end-of-the line feel. Even the Lidl felt odd. I wonder if visitors get that feeling from Penzance?
We didn’t stay.
We checked the wind we decided to head for the leeward side of the land mass. Only a few kms over the hill all was calm but it was already dark. At the far end of the last village before the border (see next week’s blog for the border of what, I’ll never get this posted if I write about it here) we pull off the dirt road and settle for the night.
We play Hedluv and Passman’s Made in Cornwall for cheer factor. And sink tsiporo and strong lager to accelerate its effect.
It has felt like a hard week. We’ve both been drained, fortunately at different times. That afternoon in the Lloyd Loom chairs south of Kathisma seems a long time ago.
We hope for Halkidiki magic. We woke this morning to sunshine and a beautiful view that we knew nothing of last night. That has helped already.
*For the uninitiated – Cheese Flips.
Cheese Flips are Lidl’s sensational Wotsits imitation. They are utterly synthetic and the bag probably offers more nutrition than its contents. Once opened nothing can drag me from them. Oh the confessions of a healthy eater.
And a little postscript:
When I read through the blog this morning I thought that perhaps I should scrap it. It’s not the most cheerful. But hey, van life can’t be a breeze all the time. What makes it such an experience is that the highs do come often, and the effort of finding them make them all the more worthwhile.
Emotions are concentrated in a van. The good and the less so. To understand that is already a huge leap forward.
Memories of Kathisma are enough to keep us going until the next lift, and I suspect that lift will come today. So let’s close with one more shot…