The last week has been the wettest we have experienced on this trip. We’ve had more rain than when we were in Scotland. We’ve had more than we’re used to in Cornwall. Yet still there have been bright patches and we’ve had a couple of good long stanks.
After all that to wake to sunshine this morning was especially good.
A little further along I even spotted a camper sunbathing in trunks. That may have been a tad ambitious, but good on him.
Tech slow down.
Our usual slow start was further inhibited by me having to spend an age working out how to use the newest version of WordPress (the blogging tool). I downloaded V5 when we were at the Mani Beach Campsite, but when I came to use it this morning I stared in disbelief at the screen, unsure of what was going on.
It’s an age thing. I know.
I haven’t conquered it, but I have got by and I’ll learn over the weeks to come.
Down the coast, the last town on the Cape Malea peninsula is Neapoli, from where you catch the ferry to the island of Kytheria.
The town is unremarkable, but we stopped for a pita gyros, and that is certainly worth a mention.
The pita gyros is street food of an imaginative nature.
A mini donna kebab is served with chips, salad and sauces all wrapped into a grilled pita.
It’s cheap (usually €2), delicious, and one is certainly enough for lunch.
We haven’t driven a modern road in weeks. So when the almost straight, well surfaced and generous width tarmac opened out to take us over the hills from the west to the east of the peninsula we were surprised, we even felt a little cheated. It felt too easy, but it gave me the chance to absorb the beautiful coast opening before me.
Ahead is the stunning island city of Monemvasia, and tonight we’re beside the pretty islet of Agios Fokas. The quintessential white Greek church on its own little island. Perfect.
Often the late dog walk in winter is a chore.
Put aside that thought and imagine this.
Polly and I step out of the van at 11.30pm.
The sky is super clear, free of moon but filled with stars.
There’s a single light glowing at the church.
The only sound is a gentle lapping of water on the shore.
I could have sat there absorbing it all for an hour.
But Polly wanted a quick pee and then bed.
In the morning bright sun – yay!
Turning on the engine seemed a travesty – but we had to move on.
Greater joys await.
While I’m the better of us at managing funds, Minty is very good at allocating amounts to particular functions.
When Rick gave us an envelope at Christmas Minty immediately squirreled it for a good stay somewhere. We’re at that somewhere now.
Monemvasia. A medieval island castle. The undoubted jewel of Cape Malea.
OK, it’s a tourist haven, but you must suspend your cynicism and embrace this beautiful place. Also, it’s mid-winter and so it’s not crawling with a thousand aimless wanderers.
We see it first from on high, looking up the coast in the Saturday afternoon sunshine beyond our spot at Agios Fokas. From that distance it already looks special.
On Sunday morning the sun shines bright, glistening off a perfectly calm sea. Our excitement builds as we approach the causeway.
In an hour we’d taken more photos than in the previous week.
The narrow main street only has room for people to pass, or perhaps two mules at a push. In summer this must be very different.
Steep steps lead up to the left and the houses of the administrators of old, and down to the right to the defensive walls along the cliffs.
Once a fully functioning fortified town, Monemvasia now welcomes invaders with many good cafes and restaurants, a few gift shops, and more churches than you can imagine. There remain 24, and there were once 40 houses of worship.
A taste of luxury.
For two nights of luxury we have a beautiful studio in the heart of everything.
We even have a bath! As I write this Minty is running her third soak in 24 hours.
We were woken early by the clip clip clopping of working ponies.
Just as in times of old the only way in and out of the fort is through its narrow gate. Anything that’s needed for the gradual restoration of the town is brought in by two ponies, loaded on their ancient wooden saddles. They trudge through the cobbled streets until the throng closes in and it’s no longer possible to bring in anything else until dawn the next day. Building materials, firewood, and three immersion heaters were all piled at the gate waiting for the horses as Polly and I took our morning perambulation.
The abandoned upper town.
On Sunday when we arrived we were delighted wandering the little streets of the lower town, where, through the ages, commerce took place.
On Monday we stretch our legs and climbed up, up, up to the upper town. The more heavily defended upper town was home to the dignitaries. It had the big houses. And the long views.
The upper town had no natural water supply (no surprise, it’s effectively on top of a mountain) and was eventually abandoned. Now only the church of Agia Sofia stands complete to remind us what a magnificent place this must once have been. The church went through various iterations, as a Greek Orthodox, and at times a Catholic church (during Venetian rule) and was twice converted to a mosque during Ottoman rule.
A hermitage for Kelvin.
Minty tells me that I can live in this little hermit’s church. I check my phone. 4G signal is good, the view is spectacular, comforts are few, but I reckon I’ll be OK for a while. The climb will dissuade all but the most determined visitors.
Bring on the drama.
The Mani was wild. Rugged. Rocky. Mountainous. Bristling with the towers of its ancestors’ anger.
After the rough place everything felt a bit too calm, too polite.
That unaccustomed gentleness stopped soon after Monemvasia.
Then the real roads started again.
Just north of town we took a long beach walk to calm Polly. While we loved our stay Polly was most unhappy about the castle city, its steps, its lack of grass and its strong puma headed cats. It only took an hour on the beach to reset her state.
There were roadside shrines again, but here these sought not just to remember loved ones passed, but also to outdo their neighbours. Shrines with painted lines around them. Shrines in marble. Two storey shrines. Shrines built with several layers of candles to show the dedication of their builders.
The road was narrow. Very narrow.
It wound through villages of stone built houses, each with windows painted around in Helenic blue. This we realised is a feature unique to the immediate area.
The countryside jagged. Spikey rocks dominate. There’s little vegetation. We expected cowboys to ride over the horizon.
Then all of a sudden the road opened out, and dropped away. Dropped away hundreds of metres to the right. A sheer rock wall soared ever higher on the left.
This was the most startling section of road so far on this 14,000 mile trip.
Yes we were scared.
Of course there were no barriers.
Just a glance to the right was enough to fill me with butterflies.
The road is apparently the most scary in Greece. We only read that after we’d completed (and survived) the drive.
At the bottom of the very long hill the road narrows to just over ArchieVan width as it winds through pretty little Kyparissi. Largely due to its inaccessibility this town has long been a favourite with big names like the Bush family, our Prince Charles, and Lady Di (whether together or with separate flings I haven’t ascertained).
Now Kyparissi can add to its luminaries the crew of ArchieVan who parked on a nearby harbour for a van dinner of lentils with roasted peppers, tomatoes and feta. Blimey it was good.
A plot for us?
In the morning I managed a conversation with an old boy as we shared similar levels of knowledge of the other’s language.
He’d been a seaman for 30 years and was proud to tell me that he had plenty of money. He showed me his little plot of olive trees overlooking the harbour and told me how these days he doesn’t look after it, he just comes and looks at it now and then.
As I stanked up the hill to get these shots of the van and harbour I imagined asking him if he’d sell, and the little cabin we’d build there. The spot is beautiful, but I let it pass us by. One day I’ll act on one of these urges.
The lost road to Leonidio.
During the 60s road building programme the plan was that all the coast of the Peloponnese should finally be connected. Alas the stretch from Leonidio to Kyparissi ends abruptly at the border of Arkadia. The Arkadian’s feared losing their tourist trade to the neighbouring Lakonia region and so didn’t build their section of the road!
Now, just above our overnight spot, a new road begins. So new in fact Google Maps doesn’t include it. It’s a wide, beautiful stretch of maybe eight miles. It hugs the very edge of the cliff offering views that the driver could enjoy without too much risk of plunging off some precipice. It ends at the horseshoe bay of Fokianos. It’s a road that will no doubt feature in lists of beautiful drives in times to come. Yet the most interesting thing about this brief highway is its own accessibility – it’s connected at both ends by the narrowest lanes. It’s a folly. Fine indeed, but a folly nonetheless.
The beach at Fokianos is another that feels like a special discovery. It’s beautiful. And there wasn’t a soul there. Given how hard it is to get to that’s no surprise.
I had my first swim of the year, and loved it. In the distance there’s snow on the Parnonas Mountains, but the sea was just fine.
Leonidio and Sampatiki.
We’d build Leonidio in our minds to be something special, and if you’re a climber then it surely will be. It has a backdrop of very high red cliffs that draw climbers from across the world. But after a short stroll around and the essential late lunch cheese pie we moved on and found a good spot above the harbour of Sampatiki where a massive goose holds sway over all the cats and dogs.
January budget review.
Short drives and mainly wild camping made for a frugal month.
Village wine is super cheap, and we’re not drinking as much of it either.
Eating out? Show us a taverna and we’ll give it a go, but a lot of the time we haven’t even seen one, let alone an open one.
We’ve only driven 750 miles yet we’ve seen the most varied scenery imaginable. A boring day in Greece will throw more natural interest your way than a month touring the Baltics.
All added up this has allowed us to keep our spend around £1,000. It’s not a target, but we’re pleased, especially as we know March will be horribly expensive. We also know that lots of folk travel for far less, but we haven’t held back. We’ve had three campsite nights, two gorgeous hotel nights, and everything else that we have fancied.
There was a time when our monthly mortgage payment was many times that figure – that was when I used to lie awake all night worried! Now we have a van. Roll on.
VanLife – a quiet winter.
Through Instagram we have seen many pictures of folk in Spain and Portugal this winter.
There is no doubt that they are having much better weather than us.
But most shots show scores of vans at very beach.
Here in Greece we hardly see any traffic on the roads, and very few vans. The weather has been a bit rough at times, but well worth putting up with for the freedom we have enjoyed.
There are few facilities. Yesterday I saw only the second public toilet that I’ve seen since getting to Greece three months ago. LPG is easy to find, and there are more fuel stations than at home. The most important utility, water, is readily available. Plumbing to every house is still a novelty in Greece and so every village has a central tap where anyone can fill up.
And already spring is springing (I’m smiling as I type that because huge drops of rain are hammering on the roof and the van is being rocked by violent gusts of wind, but it’ll clear soon. I hope).
A less comforting sight.
When you travel your van is your home. We have most of our belongings with us – not have we carry much, we got rid of nearly everything before we left St Just. So to see this filled us with dread.
This German couples van burnt to the ground three days earlier, apparently in minutes. There was nothing salvageable.
Like a house fire, it happens extremely rarely, but it does happen.
To come. Nafplio.
On Thursday evening we rolled into the exciting city of Nafplio. It deserves a post of its own. And it will have one.
So. Coming soon – Nafplio. Watch this space.
Here are a few more photos from our wonderful stay on the island city of Monemvasia. If you get the chance to go please take it. Thank you Rick. And thank you Minty for making such good use of our present.