When the wheels come off.

    A short post from a long week.

    We took fewer photos this week than we usually take in a day. Normal service will resume in the New Year!

    What happened was…

    There can be no doubt that people with a plan get more done.

    But people with a plan are more likely to see the wheels come off that plan, simply by virtue of it existing.

    For us the wheels didn’t so much come off the road as the road ceased to exist.

    I finished my last post with words to the effect of “We’ll be on Evia for six weeks and we’re excited to explore.”

    We didn’t manage a week.


    We booked Villa Freedom months ago.

    It’s a modest villa less than ten miles from Pefki on the north coast of the island. Pefki is where we spent our Friday night laughing in a bar with a couple of dozen old men on their card night. They watched each other, and they kept an eye on the dreadful TV programme Animal Fight Club, but all that attention went when a young woman stepped into their zone.

    The bar keeper was delighted to have us as a diversion from the old boys and she kept us topped up with enough nuts and crisps to substitute dinner. Oh yea, baby. We live well.

    ArchieVan above Lake Marathon.

    The floods.

    We were within a bike ride of our island home when we received a message from its owner to warn us of diversions. The bridge to her nearest village had been washed away. 

    We were a little concerned, but hey, after 35,000+ miles across Europe we’ve seen a good few diversions and have lived to tell the tale. And after all we’re used to it, bits of home get washed away most winters.

    On Saturday we set off to find the house. The plan was to get there, give it a nod, then move on to its nearest port and explore the sights.

    We didn’t make it.

    The bridge was well and truly closed, a deep pile of rubble had been spread a couple of metres high across its access, there was no sign of work.

    We started down the lane diversion that Google suggested. But time after time lanes disintegrated into tracks that’d challenge the best 4×4 and which were impossible in ArchieVan.

    After the third stupidly difficult multi point turn we decided on trying the (very) long main road diversion. When I say long I’m talking about extending a drive of less than 10 miles into a bloody hard 65 mile hack across mountains through freezing fog where the road itself had frequently fallen badly into disrepair and occasionally disappeared altogether.

    Disappearing roads.

    We all drive roads trusting that they’re solid. 

    In winter we may question the surface. It’s good to know whether it’s icy, whether it has a slick of oil. But when was the last time you asked whether a tarmac road could actually support the weight of your car?

    As I strolled along the coast I noticed holes where core samples had been taken. Core samples that showed nothing whatsoever beneath the hard-core that supported the tarmac.


    We got to the nearest port. Tired. Concerned. Tired did I say? Absolutely knackered more like. 

    We parked up. Ate sparingly. Slept a bad night. Our folks are too old to be messed around. The drive we’d done today was not one I’d want anyone to have to do. Should you choose it as a challenge, well that’s up to you, but out of necessity…

    In the morning we approached the house taking the only open route. The flood damage became all the more obvious. 

    Trees carried a debris of flotsam over a metre from their base. The roads, even though they’d been cleared, were deep in silt and rubble.

    At the house we had no choice but to say “no” to Panagotis who’d struggled up from Athens to meet us.

    Having managed holiday homes for years I could understand the effort he’d made to ready the house for us. He’d suffered flooding there too. 

    Talking English on the phone to his sister in far away Lefkada I had to try to explain how I couldn’t put our families through the several extra hours hard driving that we’d endured for their Christmas holiday. I gave him what we agreed was generous compensation and we drove away with heavy heart.

    It’s only after our yearned for break had been taken away that we realised how much we’d been holding out for it.

    Leaving Evia. Six weeks early.

    Evia and a fishy dinner.

    Evia is stunningly beautiful.

    As we headed south it was obvious that this isn’t a tourist haven.

    Few signs are in Roman script. That makes the whole experience of navigation so much more exciting.

    For scores of miles we drove through pine forest. At home that makes for a dull experience, but here pine forest is so different. Rather than the serried ranks of machine planted spruce we might experience in Scotland, here pine forest is a beautiful thing. Aleppo, Montery, Cyprus and other interesting shaped, but commercially challenging trees grow across the hillside. Long views occasionally open to the sea. Now and then there are vegetable patches along the roadside. The odd stall sells produce, or fierce fire water. There are few villages and very little is remotely commercial.

    There are bears in the woods, but a print is as close as we got.

    Finally we begin our descent from on high, a descent that seems longer, steeper than anything we’ve experienced in a long while. Twenty minutes later we’re on the flat. On the east of the island. North of the main city of Haldika. 

    And ArchieVan rolled to a stop outside a fabulous fish taverna.

    Brothers and big hair.

    At the Kala Kathumena fish taverna late on a Sunday there were just two tables still occupied after a busy afternoon, these were the tables that had hit the tsiporo the hardest.

    The elder brother welcomed us and I was delighted to realise that he didn’t speak a word of English.

    We ordered strong liquor and a menu.

    Elder brother ordered younger brother to order our order.

    Younger brother, who was deep into his 70s, sat to take a rest and think about things.

    Twenty minutes later our drinks arrived. Although there was no one else to serve. We didn’t care. The comedy value had already lifted our spirits.

    When it was time to order food the elder brother’s big haired wife shuffled along like an over aged Barbara Windsor and suggested whitebait instead of the sardines I’d requested. 

    Meanwhile the fluorescent lights blinded and the football continued on the TV.

    Greek salad. Deep fried whitebait. A heavenly sweet bread. Alpha beer. Tsiporo.

    These simple elements conspired to deliver a dinner that relieved our melancholy and satisfied bellies and minds.

    By the time we left only Barbara Windsor was serving. We want to come again. For the full experience. When we’re not strung out on tension, fatigue, let down and fear.

    The van stopped here. And it had chosen well.


    Forget the peanut bar. This is where messengers raced 42kms back to Athens with battle news and unwittingly started a craze that’s still growing a couple of thousand years later.

    The valley is now flooded, but the marathon lake is pretty enough and served as a base to recover our strength for two nights.

    Our French neighbours at the Marathon stop.

    Early in the mornings we witnessed the curious oxymoron of high visibility camouflage. 

    Greeks love to hunt. Anything. But they have a tendency towards shooting each other. So these days hunters wear high visibility jackets, bizarrely with camouflage print.

    Men arrive at dawn in their pick-ups, dogs howling in the boxes mounted on the back.

    They don their bright jackets and guns. They send their dogs to run amuck through the undergrowth, to flush out the few remaining fluffy creatures towards the waiting guns of their masters.

    A dog walk for Polly and I in these parts has unknown risk. Defenceless, we dare not challenge those who’d take a twelve bore to a starling.

    Morning mists of Marathon.


    ArchieVan tries to avoid capital cites, so we skirted Athens, passed the airport and 15kms later climbed to our home for the week above Lagonisi. 

    Instead of the basic pad we’re used to Villa Lagonisi is a large, comfortable and smart house on a hill with views out to sea. Ideal to play host to our families.

    All for us, Villa Lagonisi.

    Getting ArchieVan into the street is a multi point manoeuvre that will put me off driving anywhere, but beyond that it’ll suit us fine. 

    Amanda’s step-dad Rick arrived on a flight from Manchester on Friday. My mum and sis will arrive tomorrow, and we’ll hopefully settle into a gentle routine of unambitious sight-seeing and sleeping over the week to come.

    There won’t be a blog next week, we’ll catch up the week after.

    Thank you all for your support, comments and suggestions over the past year. Everyone’s comments are so encouraging and help ensure that the next post happens.

    Have great Christmases one and all.

    Morning coffee with Rick. Lagonisi.

    21 Replies to “When the wheels come off.”

    1. Annette Armitage says: Reply

      You don’t do things by halves do you!

      You look nice and relaxed in the pic so hope you can sit back and enjoy Christmas now.

      Heading to Cornwall shortly, sounds like it’s very wet but who cares!

      Sending lots of love and Christmas wishes to you both.

      Annette & Martin xx

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        You’re right. It hasn’t been an easy winter so far, but having a house for Christmas is certainly good (especially with family here, it’d be crowded in the van).
        Have a great time in Sennen.
        People find it hard to believe but I do miss St Just and all its characters.
        Love from KC and The Wanderers.

    2. Gillian Fawkes says: Reply

      So glad to see you are settled into what looks like a fantastic property and your earlier troubles are behind you. Hope you all have a wonderful Christmas we will raise a glass to you from Chew Magna. Gxx

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Thank you for your note.
        Have a great Christmas and a most excellent New Year.
        Best wishes. Kelvin.

    3. Gillian Cooper says: Reply

      Hi guys
      Sounds like a adventure glad you are all OK
      Enjoy Christmas and Happy New Year
      Stay safe
      Hugs to Polly
      Luv D&G🎄🎄🎄

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Hi Gill
        Thanks for your note.
        Yes, we’re all comfortable, clean, well oiled with gin, and happy!
        Have a great time the two of you and we’ll catch up soon.
        Love. KC and The Wanderers.

    4. What a challenging week to keep you on your toes and your nerves on edge.
      Looking forward to joining you in your smart pad tomorrow afternoon 😃xx

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Hi Sis
        Well it wasn’t great. There were no tears but I’m sure we shared a sob or two.I hope we’ll all have a good few days and that the sun will shine.Best wishes. Kelvin.  

    5. I can share your fear, anguish and frustration-if only in short measure. What a nightmare trip. We truly hope that your stay in the villa with friends and family will quickly restore your equilibrium .
      Have a great Christmas. Will be thinking of you 3 adventurers.

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Cheers Keith
        The big challenge to the equilibrium now is the quantity of gin that seems to be disappearing!
        Thanks for your support.
        I hope you all have a fabulous Christmas and that we get to see you before too long.

    6. I cannot say what the Villa Freedom would be like, except to say that it would have to have been pretty damned good to beat the place we are in now and also glad that I did not have to tackle the drive to it, after my disaster at Manchester. So every cloud does have a silver lining and as always, the hospitality of you both knows no boundaries.

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Great to see you Rick.
        Let’s hope we can have a good few more of these foreign rendez-vous.
        We’ll do our best to look after you.
        Cheers. KC

    7. Happy Christmas Kelvin and Minty. Thank you for the entertaining read over the last year!



      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Hi Lou
        Thanks for getting in touch.
        I hope you’ve got some good trips planned for the year to come and thanks for your support – it’s people’s comments that keep me typing.
        Best wishes. Kelvin.

    8. Last night we joined a large group of people singing open-air in the inner city. John Lennon’s “Imagine” and ABBA and Christmas songs. A special touch added because the lyrics were projected on a wall of a remaining WW II protective bunker. “…..and peace on earth among men…” A happy Christmas to you both and your family!

    9. Thanks for the year round entertainment, be careful but enjopy, A very Merry Christmas from Ann and I XX

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Great to hear from you both. Thank you!
        Well, I hope the weather at home cheers up. I miss St Just, but every morning when I listen to the news and weather I do think I wouldn’t swop places right now.
        Cheers and all the best.

    10. Hope you are now having a great and relaxing Christmas. Sorry to hear your break got scuppered, journey sounded hideous.

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Thanks Rachael.
        It was a tough end to the year, but that’s all part of the experience.
        Getting back on the road will be good.
        Thanks for your support through the year.
        Best wishes. Kelvin.

    11. Looking forward to read the new posts in 2020. The wheels certainly came off your best laid plans, but I’ll always stand by what B taught me that Everything happens for a Reason….and even UPS managed to redirect your Christmas parcel 😊😊 . Keep safe and enjoy your adventures xx
      Rab xx

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Becky Naylor?
        On our blog?
        If you’d joined us a couple of hours later you’d have seen you got a (indirect) credit on the new post.
        Good to hear from you and thanks for taking the time to read our musings.
        We hope you’ll join us on the road somewhere this year.
        KC and The Wanderers.

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