Back on the road. The next adventure begins.
Greece in deepest winter – surely it won’t be cold?
Lefkada showed us its best and worst for our last days there.
We spent a gloriously warm and sunny Sunday ambling down to Sivota for a last look before packing up much of our stuff in the early evening glow. Being so far south means that the sunset is later than at home and it’s not dark until 6pm.
During the night a massive glass shaking bang announced a thunder storm that lasted an hour and a half. The shaking of the glass didn’t compare to the shaking of the dog though. After a stint under the bed, Polly decided that on top was best. Ideally actually sitting on Minty’s head.
Monday, and New Year’s Eve came wet and cool – a good day for cleaning the house before we left it.
We had emptied the van, and knowing that we had our whole life to pack seemed daunting. It took an hour, if that. Even then foodstuffs took the most time.
Everything is clean. Everything neatly stowed.
We’re ready, and we have a fair bit less stuff than when we set out. Ace. Anything that can be left is left. Villa Noe gained many books, and a few items of clothing fit for little more than dusters.
We’ve done 13,000 miles since leaving St Just. The average mileage has dropped nicely during our extended stay, and we’ll keep it that way until we head north again.
I’m tingling with excitement at having everything we own within ArchieVan’s seven metre space again. Less comfortable with upheaval, Minty is tingling in equal measure, but hers is from apprehension.
We aborted an early plan to eat and then sleep in Lefkada town. Instead we trundled down a road already driven, heading in the general direction of Patra.
Back to Messolonghi.
Messolonghi, home of that beautiful Onasis yacht, was our destination. Before we got there the temperature started dropping, and the wind picked up.
5 degrees wasn’t what we signed up for! Worse that that was the strong wind. I’m not sure you ever get used to the wind when driving a van, the buffeting is frightening, sometimes pushing you across the lane, it’s worse still for the passenger.
That’s all behind us now and we celebrated New Year with pink fizz and a late Christmas parcel from Becky (Amanda’s sis). There were tinsel, crackers and a few ace little presents. At least we’ll be sweet smelling after a wash in our Molten Brown lotions and potions, and my feet are toasty in my best new socks!
For a few days we’ll no doubt miss the convenience of a hot shower whenever we fancy it, a normal loo, and acres of space, but hopefully by next week’s post we’ll be back in the swing of full time van life.
Rack Railway, Diakofto to Kalabryta.
A chance bit of research from Minty led to us turning left after the stunning 2km long Charilaos Trikoupis Bridge. Our plan was to wander down the west coast of the Peloponnese, but our detour was well worth the effort.
Daikofto isn’t stunning, but the little harbour is sweet and good parking alongside its station made it ideal for a two night stay.
We were up early to catch the first rack railway train up to the mountain village of Kalavryta.
Straight away we witness the hilarious Greeks for whom numbered seating seems a mystery. People stare at their tickets in dismay. A guard tries to help. People get up from their first seat and sit in another wrong seat. And so it goes on for 15 minutes until we’re all squeezed onto the little mountain train and it’s time to set off. The chaos was replayed on the way down. Do these people never fly?
It’s a modern electric train running on a narrow 75cm gauge track, but despite the current train being commissioned fairly recently it seems to have been built for midgets. It’s not just me rubbing knees with the lady opposite, everyone is forced into physical contact.
The 22km journey takes an hour as the train hauls us up through the gorge. Going up I was on the corridor seat, but had the spectacular window view on the way back down. If you take the train try to get seats numbered 5 and 7, they’re worth waiting an extra day for. Their view is wonderful. They’re window side, front facing on the way up, rear facing on the way down.
In the clear mountain air the visibility is incredible. There’s not a lot of snow at this level yet, but it must look even better when there is.
The small town / big village of Kalavryta is the pretty gateway to the ski area of the Peloponnese, but it has a dark history. It was here that the worse WWII atrocities of the German occupation took place. Above the town there’s a monument to those who were murdered here, either gunned down in cold blood (all the men and boys), or burnt to death in the schoolroom. The town was flattened. The houses burned. Only a few women escaped to bear witness to the horrors.
How ironic it seems that Greece’s vast military is largely supplied by Germany. Apparently they have twice as many tanks as France, and Britain – combined! This isn’t a moral statement – I’m well aware of Britain’s arms interests.
Now the Athenians flock here to ski, and from the number of fine food delis, to buy great ingredients.
We had a Heckflosse once. It was an absolute beauty. This is one of many old Mercedes I saw around here gradually returning to the soil. It’s a shame, they were beautiful cars and seriously advanced in their day.
A fuel stop. A tank of diesel, a tank of LPG, a tank of water, more air in every tyre. Oh, and a quick emptying of the toilet cassette. ArchieVan feels a bit heavy as we pull off, our wallet feels rather light.
West of Patra/s.
Most place names have several spellings, most places have consecutive road signs spelt differently. Bs are interchangeable with vs and sometimes with ps, ys with is, and purals seem to occur at the whim of the sign writer.
We had planned a night in Patra, it’d have been our first city in months, but a cold rain wasn’t showing the town at its best so we kept moving.
In the distance now we can see the beautiful Charilaos Trikoupis Bridge, it’s far enough away to appear to just float on the surface of the water, unattached at either end. It’d make a great photo, but would need a serious lens.
The little port where we’re camped is down the road from Kato Achaia and doesn’t seem to have a name. It’s a rough and ready place.
The beach is badly littered, mostly with broken fish boxes. When we see loads of the new polystyrene boxes being loaded onto the fishing boats Minty mused “Perhaps they just throw the boxes into the sea and hope the fish jump in”. It would seem that way.
Tiny hovels stand alongside huge affluent looking houses.
To refer to anyone’s home as a hovel seems rude, but having seen into one, the term is correct.
It reminds me of India here in many ways. Where the tourists don’t matter the beaches are litter strewn. The rich live next to the poor. All that is old and broken is left to rot outside of the home, even when that home is a big expensive one.
The hovel I looked into was only my height at the ridge, the only natural light came in from the door, and inside the single room there was a low bed, a fridge, a two ring gas burner, and the inhabitant’s possessions were scattered all over. It made me grateful for the luxuries of the van.
Yet it seems that life here is more democratic than anything we know. I can’t hope to understand whether they all get on, but they seem to. And that obvious definer of wealth at home, the car, is simply a tool here. Nearly everyone drives an ancient pickup. And when it finally fails, it’s simply left where it stopped.
In the cities people dress well, often looking very smart, predominantly in black. But in the rural areas most people make us look smart!
On that subject PLF introduced me to the lovely term of tatterdemalion. As my shirts fall to pieces on my back I feel it might fit me well. It’s a welcome relief after years in well cut corporate suits.
In the centre of the village a few lads were playing football, with the curious handicap of a gobble of 15 turkeys pursuing them. The village dogs look on. Two large white chickens try to pretend that they’re turkeys too. It could have been Redruth when I was a boy.
I know the collective noun is a rafter of turkeys, but a gobble sounds a lot more fun.
There are some low temperatures forecast for the next few days, and all around the mountains have a good dusting of snow. We’d like to explore them, but I reckon we’ll be sticking to the coast until the wind swings around to the south again later next week.
The town of Kastro is dominated by the medieval Frankish Chlemoutsi Castle. It was built in 1220 and barely altered since. All things considered it’s in a good state, and typically Greek, the entrance fee was a mere €2.
Paying the staff will have cost far more than the takings today.
After getting seriously cold stumbling about the castle ruins we fortified ourselves with a fine lunch in a café down the road with a far reaching and ever changing view over Kefalonia. Kefalonia seems destined to dominate all of our views from the mainland – this time we overlooked the southern tip and saw it blanketed in a rare dusting of snow.
The Greek pavement.
In many countries the pavement is a sanctuary for the pedestrian.
In fact in some countries pedestrians are penalised for stepping off the pavement.
In Greece the pavement is often such a hazard that walkers choose to run the gauntlet in the road rather than take the supposed refuge on the side.
The pavement is usually the last part of the road to be completed, and it seems that in general the workmen lose interest long before bothering to give it a surface.
Olive trees, and, or, oleanders, interrupt the strip every few metres.
Cafés pave over the paving to give it more a feel of belonging to them, ignoring the change in level that doing so creates.
Having so done, they then fill the space with tables and chairs forcing the pedestrian to weave between customers, or again take to the street.
Advertising boards are a constant obstacle.
Street furniture litters with little order.
Scooters and motorbikes take to the pavement to get around jams.
Scooters and motorbikes are parked on the pavement.
As are bikes.
In comparison, the random strewage of cars along the roadsides can be negotiated with relative ease.
Thankfully they don’t generally drive very fast in town.
We’ll close this week camped on the beach near Vartholomio. It’s only 4 degrees this afternoon, but the beach was beautiful as the sun dropped, with stormy skies, and an angry looking Ionian Sea.