Kathisma, then east.

    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*.

    Bring your own…

    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.

    Worth waiting all day for. Evening skies over Kathisma.


    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.

    Vitamin Sea!

    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.

    Breakfast of champions. Dahl. Chilli egg. Marmite. Honey. Toast.

    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.

    Not so long ago. Blimey.

    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.

    Recently scrumped.

    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.

    Moving on.

    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.

    Leaving Kathisma. It’ll be a long time before we’re back.

    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 bridge to Serbia, but the town, not the country.


    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. 

    Neraida and the lake.


    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.

    Limpy and Stumpy. “You look that way.”

    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.

    “Quick Stumpy, she has dropped the princess’s dinner!”

    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.

    ArchieVan and friends. Zampatas.

    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.

    PollyFilla. Lots of it.


    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.

    When bananas lift their skirts.


    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.

    Our morning view. It feels better already.
    Sunshine after the rain. Golden weeds.

    *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.

    For near vegetarians we do love grilled meat.

    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…

    Our last sky at Kathisma.

    12 Replies to “Kathisma, then east.”

    1. ‘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.’ My absolute favourite line. I have laughed at the vanity line and wishing you both lemons.

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        It could be an ancient Oriental greeting – I wish you lemons…
        The poor creature is a fragile spoilt thing that has disturbed my enjoyment of many a stormy night. But I wouldn’t be without her.
        I must find a picture of those brogues.

    2. How interesting, thank you for deciding to post your piece, there is no better read than those that come from the heart and show the reality of life on the road. Love the neighbours eternal garage contents, it’s so amazing to see what people carry with them!

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Hi Sonia

        Thanks for you comment. It’s great to get something from someone new. I’ll head of to your site now for a read.

        I suspect that our home will gradually move from minimal to maximist (invented term) but our van has to remain spartan.

        Best wishes. Kelvin.

    3. Gillian cooper says: Reply

      Glad you decided to post
      Life gets very boring if it is all good you have to have bad days then exciting when they are good days
      The only thing important is health without good health life is nothing
      Glad I got to know both Limpy ‘S it is a shame you have to leave them behind hope
      KC must say you scrub up well!!!
      Nice not to have to bother how you look all the time it is very hard work keeping up appearances
      Glad you got the batteries you will have to live on bread and water for the next week or so to boost the budget
      All is well here
      Stay Safe. Hugs to PP
      Luv D&G😎

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Thanks Gill.
        Yes, without the downs there’d be no ups.
        The batteries are still in question, if I had John’s technical knowledge I’d be a lot more useful.

    4. You could always grow lots of lemons from a supermarket when one sprouts upon your route.

      A very illuminating outpouring this week – I could no more imagine you without your brogues than without PP, maybe they remind you of who you are.
      You usually manage to make the best out a situation so I feel sure you’ll both find silver or golden lined clouds in those eastern lands.

      1. Ah yes, but bought lemons just wouldn’t taste as good.
        And clouds? The damned things are only lined with rain at the moment, but there is the promise of jam tomorrow. Always tomorrow.

    5. The experience that you had with the batteries to power simple things in Archie Van, bring into perspective the problems that could be faced when all cars etc are electric.
      Unsurprisingly you obviously enjoyed your return to Lefkada, it is a magical place in many ways. as I found out.

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        You’re right Rick.
        I’m excited by electric cars, but also fear the days when the garage down the road will no longer be able to repair anything.
        I expect by the time I get to your age (if I do) none of us will be driving anyway.

    6. Every now and then the blog confronts Germany with a riddle. What the hell is an “Iceland Party Pack”? Since we’ll travel to Iceland next year, I’ve read quite a bit about the country – including their love of barbeques and their excellent lamb…. So what to expect of an icelandic Party Pack?
      Okay folks, in the meantime I got it thanks to Google!
      “Made in Cornwall” will be the next challenge. A catchy tune and really funny! And – by the way – you might like the german word for “catchy tune”: Ohrwurm (earworm)!
      Bye Bye

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        What a great note Margret.
        Iceland – it’s nothing exciting. It’s a British supermarket that for years only sold frozen foods.
        The food looks great in the adverts, for parties you can buy huge selection trays of every imaginable thing. I can’t pretend to have much experience of actually eating it though so perhaps my comment is unfair.
        And an important note for listening to Hedluv and Passman – Dreckly is the Cornish term that’s closest to mañana.

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