Nafplio Beach Seniors Shivering Club.
It only takes a hint of sunshine for the seniors to meet at Nafplio’s little town beach.
Some spend an age stretching their wrinkly limbs in preparation for the plunge, while others shed layers as they walk and carry on into the deep.
They come and go throughout the morning. Most spend an hour or so catching up with friends and absorbing the weak rays from above. A small hard core venture in for a second dip.
Old boys well into their seventies show off their beach bodies. Press ups, sit ups and yoga moves, interspersed with the all important sun bathing.
And for once this isn’t a purely male show. There are almost as many women, including some of the strongest swimmers.
Today Rhea (mother of Zeus) neatly parked her neat little car and sauntered to the beach in smart suede boots and the essential immaculate black trousers and jacket. In the changing room she removed her perfect hairpiece, replacing it with a swimming hat. She took on the cobbled beach as if walking over Wilton. Then swam to the two hundred metre marker and back without pause. Leaving the changing room to return to her car she looked every bit the sixty five year old model. She was greeted by all as a local celebrity should be.
A few of the old men are younger than me, but shapeless trousers and practical jackets lend them years they have yet to live. Once they’re in their trunks the year round tan pays dividends and all look to be portly, but otherwise in good shape.
Many step from the sea and pull on colourful dressing gowns to facilitate their warm up, and somehow that’s OK with me. I have a horror of people wandering the corridors of hotels in dressing gowns or other night attire, but on the beach the senior club do it with style.
The prettiest town in Greece.
Having visited most towns and cities in the country I’m pretty confident in declaring Nafplio to be its prettiest town.
Whichever way you approach it you’ll think I’m mistaken, unless you come by boat. From the west miles of chemical plants line the flat scarred coast. From the north and east you’ll negotiate its post-civil war new town and it ain’t pretty at all. Ditch the car in the huge harbour car park and walk to the old town, then you’ll understand.
The Venetian port was built to be beautiful, and has since (briefly) been the capital. It’s also close enough to Athens to attract a weekend crowd and it welcomes cruise ships. The result is that a relatively small town supports more restaurants than you could possibly imagine, and, as I said after last year’s visit, it’s one of the few places with shops selling stuff that you don’t need.
On Sundays the Athenians pile in, dressed in black with gold accents, and smelling expensive. They fill every bar and café drinking enough coffee to agitate an army, and they simply don’t see the scruffy urchins like us.
We cared not a jot. We ate fantastically at two long established restaurants, we promenaded. We commented on the fabulous clothes in shop windows. Minty read menus. I swam. When it was time to leave the sun shone brighter and warmer than we’ve experienced in many weeks.
A return to the agora.
The ancient city of Corinth was closed when we tried to visit on New Year’s Day. We promised we’d be back, and surprised ourselves by actually delivering on that promise.
We returned on a perfect day.
It’s still very much winter, but with a clear sky and views across the Gulf of Corinth we couldn’t hope for better.
Wandering the marble paved streets of the Roman city (the Romans destroyed the Greek city, then regretted it and had it rebuilt) we tried to picture a British traveller arriving here fresh from, let’s say, Wolverhampton. The workmanship alone would have been staggering, let alone the culture shock of a civilised community of 90,000 souls, debating, partying, drinking wine and bathing in fountains.
The remains of the south stoa, the covered portico, are of a building 164m long, was supported on 71 columns. The artist’s impression of the original is quite stunning and something I would love to see, even in a dream.
The Corinth Canal.
The small town of Corinth has so much to offer. Even St Paul dropped by, but his reception by the Romans wasn’t as welcoming as was ours at The Tall Guy’s bar.
Even if the engineering of the castle and ancient city leave you unmoved surely the canal will impress.
We’re not talking of canals in the Birmingham sense, impressive though they are.
Although only 6kms long, this is a beast cut through 90 metres of rock. It would be pretty amazing if it were built today.
The Corinth Canal was started in the c7th BC by the tyrant Periander, but the task was beyond him. He did manage to cut a channel along which ships were dragged, and that sufficed for 1800 years.
The cast of leaders who subsequently took on the task reads like a history of ancient leaders. Alexander the Great and Caligula weighed up the mountains of soil they’d need to remove.
Nero’s golden axe.
Then Nero pitched in with a shiny, but rather impractical, golden pickaxe in 67 AD. After that first swing bent his nice new axe he passed the honour to a few thousand Jewish slaves who had the misfortune to be passing. Things were going well until a marauding army of Gauls started to make life difficult and the canal idea was shelved for well over a millennia. During that time everyone went back to Periander’s method of dragging ships between the two seas.
To make up for their ancestors’ bad behaviour a team of French engineers finally cut a navigable channel across the isthmus in 1898. 120 odd years later it’s still a mind blowing feat.
You can see the canal from its road bridge. Or there’s a footbridge. It crosses between two nowhere bits of land and that’s where we headed for viewing and photographs.
It’s great for photos. Except that it’s right beside a massive and utterly foul smelling sewerage works.
Our state of awe was sufficient to quell our gag reflex for 20 minutes but after that we had to flee. Long before it was safe to fill our lungs again the thoughtful lady at Google led us straight through a petrochemical plant. Natural effluent was replaced with unnatural and the Wanderers wondered what new hell they’d discovered.
We remained rather quiet as we concentrated on not decorating the dog and dashboard with our breakfast until eventually the factories fell away to be replaced by a calm and dreamy sea.
Perhaps the noisy viewing opportunity where the road and rail bridges cross the canal are the ones to use after all.
Athens. A strange military dance and more strong drink.
Athens, it’s all about the old stuff right?
Hopefully we’ll get to the old stuff, but Friday was far too cold for gaining high ground outside.
In front of the Hellenic Parliament on Syntagma Square crack troops were being put through their paces. The Evzone is a serious unit of hard core soldiers who occasionally get to dress up in skirts and pom pom shoes to please the crowd. After an hour of standing perfectly still outside their miniature beach huts two soldiers perform the most bizarre slow motion dance in hob nailed shoes, white tights and kilts.
I’d love to write a tale of their action. Another day. We have guests, and hiding to compose isn’t acceptable.
Shuffling back across the marble streets of the capital Team Wanderers was drawn to an old fashioned shop. It may have been a chemist. Perhaps it was an off license. Whatever, it was enough to suck us in. To suck us into Athens’ oldest ouzo distillery.
Hipster Spiros served us two ouzos. And a raki. And a copper flask of warm rakomelo. Oh my. As the 50 per cent alcohol worked its way through to soften all focus the colourful bottles of flavoured liquors blended to a beatific haze. The Athens experience was complete for day one.
Vanlife – service time.
ArchieVan is resting at a VW garage for a weekend service.
Getting anything done in Greece involves more effort than most Brits could be arsed with.
Even dropping the van off having booked it in two weeks ago took 40 minutes.
The booking it in took that long too. Most questions I was asked on the first visit were asked again.
First there was the upsell, “You must change all the filters, and the brakes, and the carpet….”
Then Patras explained the pain of having such a big van there, “The car is very large, we must have a special ramp to lift it”.
He stressed how they didn’t know the van and would have to look at it to get to understand it. That means they’ll put it off until the very last moment and the longer I give them the longer they can worry about it, and so the more expensive the job.
At this point my irrepressible sarcasm kicked in. I suggested that I take it somewhere that actually knows Volkswagens (Patras is Athens’ premier VW dealership).
He got the point, took on a pained expression and went to filling in a form with two lines of type that took him 20 minutes.
Even though I had a quote I have a deep fear of the bill I’ll be presented with on Monday.
But as the Greeks frequently say, while looking to heaven “What can you do?”