On entering a town.
Our impressions of a place can be dramatically influenced by when (and how) we enter it.
Drive into London at 9am on a Sunday morning and you may have time to marvel at the sights as you pass by. Make that same drive 24 hours later and you’ll have the time, but only because you’ll be nose to tail for hours, and that may dilute your inclination.
We get up late. We breakfast slowly. I walk the dog and then take myself for a decent walk (Polly is still confined to short strolls). By the time we get on the road it’s often mid-day, or later. That often means we arrive at our destination during the siesta. How marvellous – we’re untroubled by the madness of a busy town. We can find our spot. Have a sit, perhaps a snooze, and be generally relaxed and comfortable by the time the town begins to swing again at around 5pm.
It took a while to realise this, but now that we have it’s a habit we’ll cultivate.
The occasional campsite.
When we set our budget nearly a year ago we allowed ourselves enough to spend half of our nights on campsites.
We quickly realised that we didn’t need so many formal site nights. The number soon dropped to a night or two a week, and now we use sites even less.
In Greece wild camping is easy. The attitude to most things here is relaxed, and that includes overnight parking (unfortunately it also includes paying taxes and obeying the law).
Relaxed? Last night we laughed at a car double parked in Gytheio while the driver nipped into the bar for a quick Tsiporuo (think Grappa), right next to the police station!
People in vans who take advantage are likely to be moved on during the summer, but this time of year you can park pretty much where you like.
Back to campsites. Frugal we may be, but when there are a few days of rain on the forecast, the dirty clothes bag is getting full, and you long for a steaming hot shower, a site can be a welcome break.
We swung into the huge Mani Beach site to join the six other people staying in a place that accommodates up to eight hundred in the summer. As is always the case, it all looked a bit sad in the rain and winter cold, but Eloni, the Albanian manager was welcoming and we were soon hooked up for only the third time this year.
Two nights at Mani Beach cost just £29 including electric. Bodies scrubbed (several times). Washing done. Batteries full. Money well spent.
At the Mani Beach site we gained a temporary family of up to 11 cats. They slept under the van, sun bathed on the step when the sun put in an appearance, and weren’t in the least afraid of Polly. At once point yesterday she lay on the ground outside the van as the cats fed all around her. It’s not a sight we’ve seen before.
KateMoss was the brave fellow below who preferred love (and drugs) to food. He was desperate to join The Wanderers, but we had to let him stay.
The two miles long sandy Mani Beach is headed by the town of Mavrovouni. A desperately uninspiring place that feels as if it wastes the huge opportunity the beach offers. There are three huge camp sites, so frequently 2,500 holiday makers at a time through summer, yet there is nothing for them in Mavrovouni.
All is not lost though.
If they continue a little further they’ll get to the Venitian port of Gytheio. Gytheio is a whole different story.
The town is only small, but has a smattering of grand, if tired, buildings, pretty pastel houses along the front, a marina, another smart beach and enough restaurants to keep everyone happy. It was once the port for Sparta, and was regularly sacked as a consequence.
I saw something new in Gytheio. A builders’ merchant had moulded plastic coffins leaning, for sale, against the outside along with its display of tools and timber. That raises many questions, all of which will remain unanswered for now.
We spent a quiet night on the car park in the middle of town, had a great dinner, and visited the ship wreck a little further along the beach.
What a sight the wreck is. Particularly interesting is to watch the waves flow almost unhindered through its bows. Apparently the Dimitrios came into port in 1980 but was abandoned by its owners. It was swept away in 1981 and became stranded on the beach where it remains as a rusty shell of the cigarette smuggler it once was.
After van breakfast we headed to a large café on the front for excellent coffee*.
Most van people know where the last Lidl was, and where to find the next.
We have been on the road for three weeks without a significant shopping trip – supplies are getting low.
A few kms after Gytheio we pulled into Skala’s Lidl and we both went in for the adventure. A small shopping trip is a boring necessity, a big stock up is a major event and not to be missed. Fruit, vegetables, nuts, a few tins, a couple of bottles (but only a couple). ArchieVan felt replete, and we felt as if the benefit of all those fresh goods had started as soon as they were selected.
What we didn’t buy was oranges. We’re still harvesting a few as we walk along, and in general they are the most delicious and juicy we can remember eating.
The Mani Beach campsite had a tree of very small oranges of which we partook too. These we pop in whole, munching on skin, pips and all. Thirst quenching vitamin C explosion.
We have now left The Mani behind us and are headed for the third, most easterly of the Peloponnese peninsulas, Cape Malea.
The harsh barren eastern flank of The Mani ended abruptly, as did the towers. Suddenly all was lush around us, and we’ve driven through what must be the fruit bowl of Greece. Mile upon mile of heavily laden orange groves, roads busy with small trucks piled high with crates of fruit.
Our first night on Cape Malea will be spent at Plytras Beach – the wind is blasting us and the van shakes constantly, there’s a chance we’ll get seasick without leaving land tonight!
The storm builds.
Plytras Beach is yet another excellent stopover point where we ended up staying two nights.
A long walk to Cape Xyli during the day on Wednesday.
A big evening storm.
As I cooked I was at risk of missing the onion as I chopped, so violently was the van jerking around in the wind.
We tried to watch Tarantio’s Hateful Eight, but the noise from outside was even worse than the shooting on the screen. Our neighbours Alan and Shirley moved their van away from the edge, I think I would have done too.
The beach this morning has a thin skin of plastic, fine little bits that are too small to collect. Seeing such things first hand brings home the importance of the current high awareness of plastic waste. We all need to do our bit – although my bag of rubbish collected on the beach looks pathetic against the scale of what’s here.
So much rain fell – yet here I am this morning trotting to and fro between a nearby tap with my 5 litre container filling ArchieVan’s tank. Our water use is down to 15 litres on most days now. I don’t think we’ll get much better than that.
There’s always a silver lining to a storm – yesterday the van was covered in salt spray, today it’s (almost) clean again.
Elusive Elafonisou – confined to quarters.
The little car ferry makes the crossing from where we’re parked to the small island of Elafonisou, and we’d decided to go there on Friday (today).
Whereas a few days ago the van was covered in salt like some baked Spanish fish dish, today we woke with it covered in sand. Yet another big storm raged through much of the night and it looks as if half of the beach has been deposited down the windward side of ArchieVan.
Rain. We didn’t see much of it for the first six months of this trip. Since we have been in Greece we have had many beautiful days, but when it has rained, boy have the heavens opened.
Today the roads around us have become streams. The land looks like a lake, studded with olive trees. The sea has risen above the beach level and flooded the dunes.
It’s now nearly four in the afternoon and the deluge has hardly let up all day.
Although the ferry is running it looks a struggle out there and I’m not in the least tempted.
Instead we listened to Radio 4 all morning, including a beautiful Desert Island Discs with shepherd/writer James Rebanks as guest. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m00024rbDo give it a listen if you get a chance. It’s charming, real and heart warming.
*Cafe observation, Gytheio.
In the café two women, well on in their years, sat in their usual chairs.
Rhea and Calliope have been coming there since the late 1950s.
They arrive at 10.30am and sit for two hours, simultaneously watching television and enjoying an animated conversation.
It was the television that drew them there in the first place. When Proteus bought his a set for his café he was the first in the town to put one on display.
What an astute purchase that was. His café was already good, but the draw of the television dramatically increased his business. He built onto the café expanding in time to welcome the first tourists who began to arrive in the 1960s. Many of the customers he attracted back then are still coming, though many others have sadly passed on.
Rhea and Calliope’s conversation follows the same pattern each day, with occasional digressions when something of note happens, or someone else joins them, but that’s rare.
The death of friends heads every agenda, the most recent will be talked over again and again until someone else passes on. Great funerals from days gone by follows naturally. There’s little sadness though, in fact anyone not understanding the language would find the subject hard to believe.
Long before the old girls arrive their table is set, largely to dissuade the uninitiated from accidentally taking their seats.
On the table two large glasses of water with saucers on the glasses to stop the flies. These remain untouched. Always.
A small bottle of chilled water is brought when they arrive.
Their own one litre (kilo as they say here) bottle of Tsipouro sits in the centre of the table. The label faces away from them so everyone else can see that they have fine taste.
When she arrives Calliope walks to the counter, taps twice with her ringed little finger, even if the server has greeted her, and places her order for “Two Italian style coffees, heavy on the sugar”. She then takes the inside seat and waits for her friend.
During their stay they each slowly sip two generous measures of the Tsipuro, diluted with bottled water. They don’t start their coffees until they are cold.
At 11.30 Proteus comes to check on his business, despite having passed it to his son twenty years ago. Proteus greets each of the servers, checks the toilets (immaculate) and greets Rhea and Calliope. He then takes his favoured seat at the counter and watches a little television on the huge screen that all the Greeks face.
He likes to talk with the young servers.
Proteus is 89, his young favourites Rhea and Calliope have both celebrated their 80thbirthdays, and not so recently.
When people talk of tough times they share a look between them. They have known tough times, but that was all a long time ago.
Ultimate Van meal this week?
Last night’s pasta with spinach and salmon. Minty splashed in ouzo where wine might usually go. Heavy on the garlic of course, a dash of light cream, big pasta tubes. Delicious (nóstimos).
Busy seems to be one of the scourges of modern life.
Anything that doesn’t get done isn’t done because we’re “too busy” rather than facing the fact that the thing simply wasn’t important enough.
(Busy watching TV or social media perhaps?).
But isn’t busy such a small word for such a big thing? The Greek for busy is a much grander sounding apasxoliménos.
It even takes longer to say.
So much better to be busy in Greek.