To Messalonghi and a brush with an Onassis.

    Mainland van adventure.

    We have to go to Lefkas town tomorrow, and the sun will be shining, so what better excuse do we need for the next van adventure?

    After all, we’ve been in the house for four nights, that’s ample.

    We don’t know where we’ll go yet, but it has to include a trip to the VW dealership near Preveza to pick up the windscreen wipers we ordered a couple of weeks back.

    Jumping forward – by the time I’d paid for the wipers someone had been to the van to fit them and was back to offer me the old ones. I was greeted at the dealership like an old friend. Excellent.

    We started a short tour down the west coast of the mainland and before long the “wows” had started again.

    Over the whole journey across Europe there’s little doubt that Norway drew the biggest wows, but Greece definitely gets the most per mile, or per day, however you’d like to measure it. The drive down the mainland coast from Lefkada to pretty Mytikas was akin to driving along Italy’s Amalfi, but with no other vehicles, hardly any towns, and with the added interest of so many islands out to sea.

    Man versus rock.

    I hope you like this photo.

    It cost me a lot!

    Don’t worry, I know it’s not one of our best, but it won’t be one I forget in a hurry.

    After an excellent dal lunch by the roadside I clambered up the hill opposite in an effort to capture ArchieVan and the sea beyond.

    I took a few shots, got Minty to wave. All was good.

    Van before the fall.

    Then I stood on a rock that wasn’t attached.

    Next thing I knew I was lying at the roadside with most bits of me hurting like hell and the red stuff seeping out all over the place.

    Thankfully I was only a couple of metres up and after a painful night I know there’s no lasting damage (other than to the bedding).

    Most of my heavy falls have been from a bike and I’ve had to ride home no matter what. This time I had my nurse with me and Minty did a great job of cleaning wounds to elbow, elbow, ear, thigh and calf.

    Our mooch around the sweet little town of Mytikas was an exercise in pretending not to be in anywhere near as much pain as I was – but I know it’s worth going back to. Many small properties from a century ago still stand. People fish off the wharves. It’s alive in winter.

    Pretty houses in Mytikas.

    20 minutes further down the road we parked up at the beach just outside Astakos as the sun was going down. We know it’ll be good to wake to.

    It’s winter now and while the days are often warm, the temperature plummets on a clear night. We pulled in to the spot in 18 degrees sunshine, but within 20 minutes that had dropped to 10 degrees without the sun.

    The beach got its hook into us. Astakos.

    More wars for the ArchieVan Crew.

    As I was writing the above Minty was cleaning the beach. She decided, in the spirit of “Be the change”, that a big bin bag of rubbish collected and disposed of was a reasonable price for an overnight stay. Good on her.

    But then I heard distressed cries of my name, and I dragged my aching body out to see Minty with Polly in her arms.

    Now Polly isn’t that big, but still you’d only choose to carry her if you really needed to.

    There was more blood. Both the dog’s and Minty’s.

    The poor thing had got tangled up in some fishing line, a hook in a pad. Minty had been hooked too trying to free the dog. After half an hour of cutting and cleaning both are on the mend again, but paradise yet again took its price.

    The beach clean was a success. Minty took a bag, we found two more big ones, and it’s now looking good again, and it’s minus a lot of hazardous fishing tackle too. The most annoying thing about the rubbish is that there’s a huge bin at the top of the track – yet people dump whatever they have finished with exactly where they are.

    Two of three, beach clean at Astakos.

    Today’s a cold one, but the sun is beautiful. I’ll swim soon to let the salt into my cuts. And if we end up staying here anther night I’ll be very happy.

    Thousand year old olive trees.

    What have these ancient trees seen? What have they lived through?

    Some of the largest may well be a thousand years old. When they were saplings….

    • Greece was still part of the Byzantine Empire. What we know as the Byzantine was the Eastern Roman Empire that we weren’t taught much about at school. It had Byzantia/Constantinople/Istanbul as its capital city and thrived long after the Rome based empire faltered.
    • England had only recently come together as one nation and was soon to be invaded by the Norman Conquest.
    • In Cornwall our ancestors were little people, still mostly subsistence farming, with some dangerous mine works going on.
    • The Cornish boundary with England (Wessex as it was known) was less than a hundred years old.
    • The castle that was to be the start of the founding of Truro hadn’t been dreamed of.
    • The World Wars were a mere blink of an eye ago to these old trees.
    • And Greek financial crisis? Yesterday. Hopefully most of the trees will be around so see the country thrive again.

    And still they grow.

    Most of the olives are tiny, hardly distinguishable from the goat poo that usually surrounds the trees, although the poo might be more palatable. If you’ve ever tried an olive from a tree you’ll understand.

    Ancient olives, at our local Mikros Gialos.

    Aging legs versus ancient hills. A tale of cycling in Greece.

    Villa Noe, the house we have rented for a while, is a long way down a rough lane. A lane that scared us the first time we tackled it in the van. It’s rough, very steep, and generally has a loose surface of gravel washed from the hills. Apart from that everything around us is more beautiful than we could have hoped for.

    When we’re out and about I so often think about how I’d love to cycle these hills, ignoring for the moment the inconvenient truth that I haven’t been cycling fit for four years, and that my legs are not getting younger.

    I know the score.

    Start gently. Build up.

    The trouble is, setting out from the house means immediately tackling a very steep hill. So that’s the gentle start bit rubbished at the outset.

    The nearest flat road is a good few miles away.

    Instead of starting gently I decide that I’ll have to do short and sharp rides, gradually increasing the distance.

    I have the right bike for it. I’ve had my Orange P7 since my early twenties. It has gears so low that balance becomes an issue in the lowest one. In fact I have never used that bottom gear.

    My first attempt was to the end of the lane, a two mile round trip.

    It was so blinking hard that I didn’t try again for two weeks. I felt sick for a while afterwards. My legs had turned to jelly.

    Fortunately during those two weeks we have done lots of walking in the hills and it must have helped.

    Today I managed my second ride, out to the Sivota road, up the next punishing hill to the main road and along a little in the Nidri direction, even more uphill.

    It was still only five miles, but I kept my breakfast down. Neither heart nor lungs gave out and my legs actually felt OK.

    I hope it’s the start of a beautiful thing – even if I only get to the local shop and back by the time we need to leave again.

    The P7, back in the summer.

    Van maintenance.

    We finally got the van onto the drive. It was a tough job. We probably won’t do it again, the gaps were just too tight.

    Driving through many of the countries we’ve visited in the last six months is a heck of a lot more of a shaky experience than driving in Britain. The unsurfaced lanes of Greece takes that experience to another level. And with all that shaking around things become disconnected.

    Today was a day to address a few of those things, mostly tackled with long nosed pliers.

    ArchieVan’s electric step now retracts again.

    Minty’s reading light works again.

    And the bathroom light works sort of – there’s a loose connection in the switch itself and I didn’t fancy taking that to pieces.

    Pleased with getting a few things to work again I then set about cleaning the beast. It’s a different job to washing a car! Perhaps that’s why we’ve only done it twice since we set off. Although he never really looks dirty, it’s great to see him properly clean.

    Oi! You missed a bit. You missed a lot!

    Axe Man.

    So what do you do after cleaning a house sized van?

    Set about some olive trunks with an axe of course.

    The smell released when splitting olive wood is incredible. It’s just like the smell of an olive stall in Morocco. Sharp, tangy, and initially not pleasant, yet it grows on you.

    The fires will be stocked up for a while now.

    Further south to Messolonghi.

    We drove further down the coast from Astakos, and into very different scenery.

    Still the high hills and mountains flanked our left, the coast our right, but in between the land opened out to fertile plains and miles of orange groves. The trees are so pretty when laden with ripe fruit. The leaves are a deep waxy green, and now at the end of the year the oranges are at their most intense colour, ready for picking.

    Our Friday night destination was very different to the previous little cove at Astakos. We pulled onto the wharves of Messolonghi.

    The cargo ship Ostermarsch is unloading the utterly vast tubes that will be part of a huge new wind farm. The biggest turbines now have blade diameters of over 150m. They look big when you drive past them, the look quite unbelievable when you see them lying on the ground. Massively extended trucks take them away, a tube, or a blade, at a time. The motor is the size of a terraced house. A modern engineering feat that we take for granted.

    The Onassis Connection.

    The Ostermarsch and its cargo are interesting, but it’s what’s moored next to it that really pulls the attention.

    There are yachts. There are super yachts. And then there is the Christina O, the ship the term was probably first coined for.

    The Christina O looks truly beautiful in the evening light moored here on the lagoon.

    Aristotle Onassis had her transformed from frigate to what was then the world’s most luxurious yacht in the 1950s. On board he entertained the likes of Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, John F Kennedy (before later marrying his widow) and Winston Churchill.

    ArchieVan is moored between the ropes (you’ll have to look closely).

    You can charter her today – prices start at £500,000.

    Yet I bet the people on board are looking with envy at ArchieVan!

    The yacht is pretty smart, but I’m not inclined to swop.

    After an excellent meal in town last night we’re looking forward to exploring the series of lagoons here today. I just need to get to a café with good wifi so that I can drop the pictures into this post and we’ll be off on tour.

    One of the lagoons at Messalonghi.

    Seth’s words of wisdom.

    I’m a big fan of American thinker and marketing man Seth Godin. Today he wrote:

    Just because you don’t understand it

    …doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

    …doesn’t mean it isn’t important.

    If we spend our days ignoring the things we don’t understand (because they must not be true and they must not be important) all we’re left with is explored territory with little chance of improvement.

    How apt for us. How apt for the world.

    Let’s march onward with eyes wide open.

    Beach cleaner, nurse (to Polly and me), navigator, and all round best mate.

    8 Replies to “To Messalonghi and a brush with an Onassis.”

    1. And here we sit in foggy St Just, saturated underfoot from relentless rain, and still recovering from the latest Force 10! I know envy is supposed to be a sin but………..

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        But at least you’ve got The Star!
        It’s so bright I can hardly see the screen to type on this Sunday morning, yet I’m looking forward to a trip home in a few months.

    2. Another interesting story KC, but concerned at your decision to balance on precarious rocks to get the better angle! Also Minty’s beach clean-up and the fishing hook saga suffered by her and Polly; this reminded me of the time when we were on holiday at San Pedro, (David’s Villa) when we were all walking down the beach to a restaurant and Chris, who would only be about 5 or 6 at the time came running up with a selection of needles he had picked up! We didn’t go along that stretch again by the way.
      I too had a bike which had 21 gears and too remember fondly the lowest gear when my legs were going at a speed that Usain Bolt would have been proud of, but I only moved three or four metres on the flat! This nicely leads me into the “hill” you tackle daily.
      I have to say that I am looking forward to a lovely week of relaxation on the terrace with Peggy drinking the odd coffee and maybe a beer, gazing over the Ionian (?) getting through my recently added collection of Kindle downloads, without recourse to walking that hill! There is always the trusty Aguilla or whatever I’m given, can’t wait to see you both.

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        It’ll be a different Christmas this year for sure. Plans are in place and we’re looking forward to the family expanding for a week.

        In Cornwall its jellyfish – you think how wonderful it is to leave the children wandering free on the beach, and then they come back holding a jellyfish!

    3. I pity the damaged Archie Van crew – but thumbs up for a fellow garbage collector! I would love to test my Lorenz garbage pliers on a beach with you, Minty!
      And envy…. yes, me too…. Although the time before christmas is quite nice at home and I wonder, if you ever miss your house or familiar items or friends??? Anyway – I miss oranges ripened on the tree!

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        We’ll bring friends to us! We’re hoping some family is coming at Christmas, and some friends just before, and who knows, maybe it’ll be warm enough to take them to the beach. 19 degrees is forecast for tomorrow so there’s a good chance.

    4. I thought you had learnt , years ago, that you don’t bounce.You must stop throwing yourself around trying to disprove what you know to be true! However, you seem to have recovered as a result of testing Minty’s human nursing skills.

      * Gold stars will be awarded to the Cornish Wanderers Beach Picking Association.

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        It certainly made me feel older than I ever have.
        It hurt like hell, still does, but no lasting damage.
        Just think, I could have been someone who doesn’t climb, doesn’t try the silly things, but what fun would that be?
        Cheers. KC

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