In the last episode you may recall we confessed to scrumping oranges, and loving them, whole and juiced.
The fresh juice is delicious, utterly different to anything from a carton, and Minty wanted more.
We’re a bit too conscientious to go on another raid and so we headed to Lefkas for the Saturday morning fruit and veg market.
It’s a typically understated affair. Just a street on the edge of town with perhaps thirty stalls selling all local produce. None of it cleaned and polished as we expect from our supermarkets. But everything we have bought so far has tasted great. We’ve had carrots, onions, garlic, massive cauliflower, broccoli, apples, green beans satsuma, probably more.
Today we bought a carrier bag full of juicy large oranges – €1.30, and half a kilo of almonds.
I love almonds. They’re my go to snack to help me avoid eating crisps.
And what I love best about them is cracking a nut between my teeth so the two halves fall apart, then running my tongue along the porcelain smooth inner surface. Is that too weird?
Almonds are never cheap, the market ones were €7 for 500g, but that’s still a little better than the supermarket price, and these are much more crisp, the insides all the more like fine bone China on the tongue.
Two stanks. Far reaching views. Waterfalls.
I can’t spend a whole day in a house unless I’m ill.
A little too late on Sunday afternoon I set out in Billie and parked in the hill village of Vournikas, above Sivros. There is a mad Greek track heading out of the village that winds around the 800m peak of Lainaki that I’ve seen most days and always hoped to cycle or walk along.
It was already 4.00pm when I set off and I knew I had to get a move on to get the best of the views. It would have to be an out and back route rather than a circular, the circular would be stunning, but probably 20kms.
I’d still like to tackle the long route, but on Sunday an hour in each direction was enough to delight. Shafts of late afternoon light were bouncing off the bay at Vasiliki creating a view that it would take much more than my phone camera to best capture. In just an hour I had views over the islands of Kefalonia, Ithica, Kambos, Meganissi, Kalamos, Kastros, the mainland and probably more.
It was completely dark by the time I got back to Billie, but wow, it was good.
Our Tuesday stank set out from Nidri.
Nidri is the only fully touristy town on Lefkada and even then it’s nice enough in winter. Within a few minutes we were winding through olive and citrus groves, made more interesting by the chickens, goats and sheep.
Soon the route started climbing above the plane and all thought of town was forgotten. As the steep sides of a small gorge closed around us the temperature dropped and the roar of the Nidri waterfall increased.
This is December, and while we’ve had torrential rain lately, it has still been dry for many months. In May when the river is in full spate the falls must be a wonderful sight, especially good on a hot day when it’s possible to bathe beneath the icy torrent.
That desire to move on.
Allow me to qualify my desire to move on that I expressed last week.
I could happily spend a very long time here on Lefkada.
It seems that everywhere you look there’s a track that unveils new views, ancient ruins, a tavern that opens for this event or that, a church where everyone flocks for a particular religious day.
There’s always someone who’s up for sharing a few words.
I’d love to learn the language well enough to chat to the old boys in the coffee shops, to hear their tales of old times.
I’d even like to see it in summer when all but the most secret beaches are crawling with people and the temperature soars.
Most of all I’d like to see it in spring when the ground is carpeted in flowers.
Just this evening I have been flicking through estate agents’ websites, dreaming of restoring an olive factory, or maybe a town house.
No, the desire to move on has nothing to do with tiring of where we are. Rather, now we have decided on a date to get back on the road I am eager to make it happen.
Learning Greek seemed hard from the start.
Much of the alphabet is recognisable from maths lessons all those decades ago, but the shapes don’t correspond to letters and sounds as we know them from the Roman alphabet.
And then there is the sheer volume of words – its estimated that there are over five million words in the Greek vocabulary, and seventy million word types.
It’s no surprise then that it’s suggested that after a year of hard learning you should manage rudimentary conversational Greek, but that mastery of the language might never happen in a lifetime.
After a month or so working with an app my vocabulary has topped 200 words. I’m quite chuffed with that. An hour most mornings is spent talking to myself repeating everything from counting to ten through to important stuff like ordering coffee and wine.
Although nearly every Greek we meet has a reasonable level of English, they’ll indulge my feeble attempts at Elenikas. So far I have been served with the thing that I have asked for without too much gesturing involved.
Enquiring about winter tyres was a whole different matter though!
Polly. A change of plan for late winter.
We had hoped that we’d reverse my journey south and get back to Poprad, Slovakia, in February for Polly’s second operation.
Unfortunately we’ve had to rethink that idea.
On that route we’d do most of our miles through Slovakia and Germany. No problem there, both countries have great roads. However both countries (sensibly) demand that vehicles have winter tyres fitted through the worse months.
I checked out prices. To re-boot ArchieVan with winter tyres will cost more than £800, and as the current tyres have at least 15,000 miles of tread left we’d somehow have to carry them with us. The tyre sellers offer a storage facility which is great, but that would mean coming back to Lefkada before starting any new ground next year. I love the idea, but the miles would cost even more than the tyres.
Plan B is that we take a ferry crossing from somewhere in Greece to Italy (there are many options with wildly varying prices) at the end of February. From there we’ll drive back to the UK through Italy and France via lots of pizzerias.
With snow chains ready for fitting if the going gets tough.
Just because the route is different doesn’t mean we’ll avoid the snow, but we’ll allow plenty of time and hopefully get back towards the third week of March.
We should be there before the plug is pulled on Britain and our once great nation sinks without a trace. But not even the British will notice, they’ll all be too busy blaming each other for the mess of Brexit. With luck we’ll escape again before the country implodes.
Kathisma. My Greek Gwithian.
From the earliest age when I could express an opinion through until I left home my favourite place in the world was the three mile Cornish beach of Gwithian. As a child I’d play all day in the stream making dams, and swimming in the sea. And later as a teenager I’d walk off my angst through the dunes and along the beautiful sands.
On Lefkada, Kathisma is my Gwithian.
We’re camping here for the fourth time, and probably the last time on this trip.
It’s rare for me to return to a particular spot, after all there’s so much to explore, but with a day of full sun forecast I had no doubt over where I wanted to be.
And it has delivered again.
We even discovered a new way of using the van. When there’s a lot less heat in the sun, avoiding the breeze may make the difference between sitting out and not. With the bikes elsewhere we can both (just about) sit in the back in the bike store, or one person can make themself very comfortable.
I won’t be swimming today though, a small treatment at the doctor’s means I have to keep my head dry for 24 hours.
Generally I shave my head every few days, but once I’d decided that I was going to enter the Orthodox Priesthood (don’t worry mum, not really) I knew I should practice not cutting my hair. I hadn’t realised that the blade also removed growth from a bit of sun damage on my scalp. Three months of not shaving allowed an unpleasant little lump to grow.
Something had to be done about it.
We drove into Nidri to find the doctor.
At Nidri, in the general vicinity of the surgery, there was a fellow arguing with a delivery driver. He commanded a degree of respect.
When he was done with browbeating the driver I tried my tragic Greek on him to ask where the doctor’s surgery was.
With a gruff nod he told me to follow him, right into his consulting room, no reception, no “who are you?” not even an explanatory “I’m the doctor”. He sat on his desk and went straight to “What’s wrong?”
I showed him the offending growth and, sucking his teeth, he said “Go and see my friend the dermatologist. Go today”.
Rather than directions he called up Google Maps and showed me where to find his man in Lefkada. Fortunately I recognised the area. He wrote down his friend’s name and sent me off with a “Kali tixi” (good luck).
In Lefkada I asked at the pharmacy and they directed me to an office in an apartment block where I met Dimitrius. Dimitrius turned out to be the wrong guy, but a dermatologist nonetheless.
What a dude.
He took a look with a microscope that projected onto his computer screen so that he could poke away at my head while I watched on the screen.
In brilliant English he said “Yeah, yeah, it looks like some kind of evil melanoma, but don’t worry, it’s safe and we’ll have this off in a fortnight.”
A fortnight later he sat me down, told me to hold on tight to the stool, and then set about my head with liquid nitrogen, freezing the hell out of the sun damaged tissue on my head.
Whoa! Heads are tender at the best of times, and mine doesn’t have a lot of protection from either hair or excess flesh.
How much pain can cold cause? Lots I was soon to learn.
That was the day of my big fall.
For a good while my head hurt, hurt like hell – but cracking open both legs and elbows diverted my attention from my tender scalp quickly enough.
Today I went back for a check.
My man Dimitrius was happy with his work, but froze a few more bits for good measure. I mustn’t get it wet until the morning, so no swim no matter how beautiful the waves.
How great is the NHS?
In the UK we’re told all the time how wonderful is the institution we call the NHS.
Here in Greece I was referred literally by the doctor saying “Go to this address.” I had no queues. My man wasn’t rushed. I was treated pretty much immediately, and it cost me €50. The service was excellent.
While we see much here that isn’t great, for one of Europe’s poorer partners Greece seems pretty well sorted in many ways. The most important of which is how happy people seem.
I’m going to schedule this post for Saturday morning. When it goes live I’ll (hopefully) have met Janice and mum at Athens airport. We’ll probably be in Corinth where I’ve booked us a room for Friday night. We’re looking forward to having friends with us so that we can show off this wonderful place that we currently call home.
I wish you all the most lovely Christmases. And I’d like to thank you for reading this little blog, travelling with us, in spirit at least.