Category Archives: Greece

week 28 – greece week 5 – the third peninsula, corinth and heading for bulgaria

This week we travelled to the right hand finger of the Peloponnese and east to Argolis before heading north on a 450 mile journey to Kavala, one of our last stops in Greece before we cross the border to Bulgaria.

We visited the home of the Gods at Mount Olympus, saw the amazing Corinth canal and returned to Thermopylae where we wild camped beside a bankrupt hotel that now provides a temporary home for Syrian refugees.

Leaving Gythio:

While we’d spent few days close to Gythio, we never actually got to see the town. Such was our level of sloth that we didn’t budge from the beachside campsite. Even the van was chilled out….it refused to start when we were trying to leave which meant unpacking the boot to get at the engine…

..and giving this gadget its first airing on the trip. It’s a power pack which comes with its own jump leads. It started the van straightaway and we headed off to get to the right hand finger of the Peloponnese.

We followed the coast past this ruined ship…

…and through miles and miles of orange orchards…

…to this Gibraltar-like rock. It’s Monemvasio, linked to the mainland by a causeway.

We climbed the hill leading to the old town spotting a peregrine falcon on the way…

….and a great surprise, bumped into Nadia, Gunte, Ella and Blackie, our friends from Koroni.

Monemvasio is a beautifully restored Ottoman town. Everything is picture perfect with it’s narrow cobbled streets now crammed with smart bars and restaurants….

..and colourful blooms amid the ruins…

…and beautiful views over the red tiled roofs of the Ottoman homes.

We didn’t stop for long though. After a farewell coffee with our friends, we set off on our journey – our ultimate destination as yet unknown. Our only plan was to find a Greek village somewhere near the border with Bulgaria where we could insinuate ourselves into some family’s Easter celebrations.

At least that was the plan.

Our first stop was at the east coast village of  Leonidio on a route which took us across the most isolated countryside we’d seen since coming to Peloponnese. There was scarcely a house and on the two-hour journey we passed just two cars and one donkey.

Nearing the top of the steep slopes overlooking Leonidio, we thought we were driving into a forest fire….

…but we were driving into cloud…..

…or maybe sea fog. It was a challenging drive down. The steep switchback turns left the wheels of the van burning from the heat of the brakes for about an hour after we finally reached our beachside campsite…

…which had the oldest olive tree we’ve seen so far.

Leonido is becoming a really popular place with climbers…at least that’s what we heard from the two Yorkshire men we got talking to at the nearby taverna. They were there to tackle these limestone cliffs overlooking the village.

And continuing our big shunt northwards, our next stop was at a campsite near Nafplion. It’s in the guidebooks as one of the prettiest towns in Greece. It’s also a big cruise stop which explained the number of Americans wearing naval hats we met climbing the many, many steps up to the Venetian fortress overlooking the town.

Up top we paid the 8 euro a head entrance fee in, had a peek into the prison and eh, that was about it up there.

If the admission fee was payable at the bottom of the steps, we might have felt the ticket price included a cardio workout. As it was, we felt, well, a little stung.

So maybe that’s why when we arrived at the ancient site of Mycenae and got to the ticket booth, saw the queues and the prices we  turned round.

The car park was full of tourist coaches and the lines of visitors snaking round the ruins was off putting…

…so we kept going.

Now Mycenae, now you don’t.

We could easily have missed our next stop. Here it is looking like a scruffy wasteland ….

…..very different from how it looked when it opened in 1893 as this print in a nearby cafe depicts.

It’s the Corinth Canal and we headed there knowing it was something special but with only a vague idea of the story behind it. Um, wasn’t it built centuries ago in an amazing feat of engineering with all excavations done by hand? Eh, actually no. Got that one wrong.

Carving a canal from the Aegean to the Adriatic may well have been a dream for many of the ancient rulers but construction didn’t actually start on it until the 1890’s. By then the technology had advanced somewhat from slave labour having to scoop the earth out with their hands.

Up close, the canal is an impressive sight. It’s tall and narrow and steep and for those of us who prefer to be nearer the ground just  a tad nerve wracking to look into.

Eyes straight ahead, firm grip on handrail, terra firma is near….efharisto but am most definitely not interested in bungee jumping into the canal as have not as yet been certified mad.

Here’s the view out to sea….

…and into it’s depths.

It was a shame we didn’t see any ships go through it on the day we visited but nowadays it’s too small to accommodate most modern ships. You can go through it on a tourist cruise though. That’s definitely one for the bucket list.

This week we have mostly been eating…

More Greek salads. Fashion your feta whatever shape you like, it’s still delicious.

But coming in at number one this week is this dish…

It is gyros, the perfect fast food dish, made with chicken or pork with tomato, onion and  tzatziki sauce wrapped in warm pita and –  new  since my days Greek island hopping days as a 19-year old – a few chips thrown in for good measure. Truly a wondrous innovation.

And this week when wild camping with low stocks and a craving for carbs, I had a go at making my own flatbread. Just chuck together flour, a few dollops of yeast, some olive oil and water…..

….knead till it glues to your hands.

Wait for it to rise.

Then cook in the frying pan given no electricity means no oven. The result was perfectly edible flat bread…

…though the leftovers were still not good enough for the stray dog who adopted us that day.

Mount Olympus:

We stopped off in Litochoro, the town which acts as the base camp for hikers climbing Mount Olympus. It had the feel of a Swiss ski resort…..

….which wasn’t surprising given the peaks of the home of the gods are still snow covered.

Every summer thousands arrive to trek its peaks and stay overnight in the refuges up top.

And the scenery on Mount Olympus does look wonderful judging by the photos on display in the interpretation centre….

…but they look seriously challenging so in our case best left to the gods and experienced mountain climbers.

The Refugee Hotel at Thermopylae:

One of our overnight stops on the long road northwards was back at Thermopylae. We had already visited the hot springs on our way down to the southern Peloponnese and now heading back on a route with seemingly no open campsites it seemed a good place to spend the night. After all where better to wild camp than beside an endless supply of hot water?

But on our first visit, we had completely missed the fact that the building we’d seen in the distance  is a temporary home for Syrian refugees. It used to operate as the Aigli hot springs hotel but went out of business and had fallen into disrepair. Then last year, thanks to an initiative by the local governor, it’s doors were opened up to give shelter to some of the many refugees now trapped in Greece since the Balkan borders were closed to them.

Returning to Thermopylae, we drove close to the hotel to be near other motorhomes already set up for the night.

It’s new role as refugee shelter was obvious. The place was filled with families. Laundry was hanging out of every window, little boys were playing around the waterfall and nearby a boisterous football match was underway.

Another motorhome drove up alongside us.  It was a group of young Belgians, all taking part in a relay run to raise money for Syrian refugees. They had already been to visit one of the camps near Athens. I asked if they intended going into the hotel, half thinking we could visit with them. ‘No, we wouldn’t do that. We will only visit if we have contact with a representative there. We don’t want to intrude on their privacy or dignity.’

Point taken. Without an invitation, we didn’t venture closer but it was an incongruous situation – holidaymakers like us parked up to enjoy the sun and hot springs and next day free to carry on with our travels. Meanwhile the new residents of the hotel stay trapped in the Greek bottleneck, waiting for their asylum applications to be processed before they can find a safe and permanent home.

And finally:

We’ve changed our plans. Having got this far north, we’ve decided to keep going and spend Easter in Bulgaria. So we’ve only a few days left in Greece.

So head for the city or the beach? We opted for Kavala for another few days of sloth. We are getting good at that.

Week 27 – Greece Week 4 – The Mani

We are on our way home!

This week we passed the half way mark in our year-long trip and fittingly we spent it at the most southerly point we will reach in Europe.

That’s here at Cape Tenaro at the tip of the Mani peninsula in the southernmost point of mainland Greece.

That’s the middle finger of the southern Peloponnese. From now on as we head back up through Greece, we are journeying homewards.  It will be by the scenic route though via Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Faroes, Iceland, Germany, Holland and, eh, Harwich.

But back on the Mani…we  wild camped at Cape Tenaro for two nights and spent the days walking through the beautiful countryside and coastline. One route took us down a narrow rocky path to the lighthouse. The wind blowing in from the sea was fierce but by the lighthouse, sheltered by the rocks, it was a calm and warm sun trap.

The next day we took a circular route from the cape over hills covered with wild flowers…

…and through thick and highly scented yellow gorse down to the small, sandy cove of Porto Kagio.

This beautiful unspoilt area was our favourite part of the Mani and all the better for having the place virtually to ourselves.

That was especially the case at the Caves of Diros .  Judging by the number of boats lining up, the caves are thronged with visitors in high season.

But we took the 40-minute guided tour with just four others so it almost felt like we had this strange underworld to ourselves. The boatman silently paddled us along the subterranean river, through narrow corridors lined with head-skimming stalactites and weirdly shaped stalagmites.

The only sound was the noise of dripping water and the thud of his oar.

It was an extraordinary experience, maybe the best comparison is like those scenes in the 1960’s  film ‘Fantastic Journey’ where a submarine crew are shrunk down to be injected into a scientist and are navigating their way through his blood stream. Based on a true story I believe.

Heading off on our fantastic journey

And outside the caves, there was this statue of a heroine of the Mani to remind us what a brave and fierce lot Maniot people are.

Her statue commemorates the amazing feat of the Maniot women during the Greek War of Independence in 1826. The men were all off fighting on one front while the women were left behind to carry on with the harvest. So when a force of over 1,000 Turkish troops landed at the nearby bay in a bid to trap the men to the north, the women of the Mani succeeded in driving them out with stones, sticks and their sickles until reinforcements arrived.

And the Maniots were also the first in Greece to declare war on the Ottoman empire…

…as this poster in the Mani’s capital Areopoli shows. But the history of this isolated peninsula also has its fair share of serious craziness as witnessed by these towers.

They dot the whole peninsula, either as crumbling ruins…

….or expensive renovations or new builds following the style of the local architecture…

…like these new complexes blotting the landscape.

The towers were the homes for the Mani clans who spent four centuries waging brutal blood feuds against each other  hence the need to shelter behind the fortified high walls sometimes for years.

English writer Patrick Leigh Fermor writes about the ‘dark towers’ in his book written in the 1950’s ‘Mani – Travels in the Southern Peloponnese’. He aptly describes them as having the ‘hallucinating improbability of a mirage’.

We did pass through Kardamyli where Leigh Fermor lived for many years after being won over by its ‘quiet charm’. It didn’t have the same effect on us all these years later. On the day we visited, loud music was blaring out through a PA system to welcome back entrants in The Taygetos Challenge. The place was heaving so we didn’t hang around.

Our last stop on the Mani has been at the seaside town of Gytheio or to be more accurate at a campsite about 3km outside it. As I write, we still haven’t mustered up the energy to actually go to the town. Well after six months on the road, it was time to give the van a complete spring clean, there’s a good taverna a few short walk away …

…with great fish…..

….and plenty of kindling on the beach for a decent fire.

Next week we move on to the third finger of the Peloponnese.

Week 26 – Greece week 3 – still on the first ‘finger’ of the southern Peloponnese

This week we explored a bit more of  the Messinian peninsula, had the first swim in the sea for 2017 and then travelled north to finish the week in Kalamata, joining Greek families in their 25th March celebrations for National Independence Day. Well, watching them is probably a more accurate description…


From our base at a campsite in Koroni, we made a few day trips, like this one to the town of Methoni.

Driving towards it, we could see the ruins of the fortress stretching out to sea.

It’s a Venetian castle and together with the castle in Koroni they were called the ‘eyes of the Venice republic’ because of their strategic location, guarding the trade routes.

Admittedly the prospect of seeing  another Venetian castle hadn’t been exactly thrilling. Well, why travel all the way there to see one when we’ve a perfectly nice one where we were staying in Koroni….shamefully lazy or what?

It was good we hadn’t given into ‘castle fatigue’ or we would have really missed an unexpected treasure (to the uninformed visitor).

Gialova Lagoon:

But the highlight of the week was finding this place…

Actually, we didn’t find it for ourselves…we were about to leave Koroni and head off to the Mani peninsula – the second finger of the southern Peloponnese – when our fellow campers Nadja and Gunter told us about this beautiful lagoon.  You can’t leave without going there, they advised.

And so we did and we also agreed we’d keep a look out for the stray dog that they had be-friended when they stayed there. He had made such an impact on them, that they were now planning to return to look for him and hopefully ‘adopt’ him, assuming no owner turned up in the meantime.

We spent a day there and loved it so much we packed up from Koroni and returned to wild camp the following night.

Here we are close to the lagoon, just one big puddle to cross…

…and a short drive down the track…

…accompanied all the way by this little fellow who had been loitering by the bins in hope for new visitors (Nadja and Gunter will be pleased he’s still here we thought)…

..and we parked up beside Voidokilia Beach where the water was just about warm enough to brave the first swim of 2017.

And we had the place to ourselves….

….apart from the local wildlife.

The lagoon is a favourite stopping off point for migratory birds heading to Africa though not at the time we were there. Still when Stuart hiked up to the ruined castle overlooking the lagoon ….

A view of the castle on the walk up from the lagoon

…to get this panoramic shot..

…he also managed to get close enough (almost) to snap a colourful hoopoe, after many frustrating days of seeing them flit past the window of the van as we’ve been driving along the peninsula.

And just in time for dinner, along came this man from nearby Pylos who had spent the day in the lagoon diving for ‘gold of the sea’…

That’s this seaweed. He generously gave us a plateful and suggested we should eat it sprinkled with lemon juice. …

…which we did along with Nadja and Gunter who had returned to find Blackie as they now call him.

Yes, a very happy ending for this little dog so no more hanging around the bins waiting for scraps with strangers. He’s bonded well with their own dog Ella. The vet in Kalamata has given the all clear that there is no owner out there looking for their lost dog so he now has a new home albeit one on wheels for the next year or so!

Blackie and Ella make friends

It was great hearing about where they have travelled so far especially as it turns out they have stayed in some of the same places as us. They too had been to the winery in Sardinia where wine was dispensed by petrol pump; they stayed in the same overnight stop in Ragusa and had also been to Mount Etna though they got there a few weeks after Stuart and Callum had been skiing so they saw the eruptions first-hand.

Leaving the lagoon, the van made some strange screeching noises thanks to the caking of mud it received going through that puddle. Thankfully driving a few miles cleared it. We don’t want any problems between now and Bulgaria when it goes in for a big service.

We were sorry to leave the lagoon but we were heading to Kalamata where we hoped to join in some festivities to mark Greek Independence Day and also the Greek Orthodox religious festival of the Annunciation.

But apart from the closed shops and the flags flying to mark the occasion….

….the festivities were confined to family gatherings for celebratory meals in the harbourside restaurants.

So we adjourned to a nearby bar to celebrate with Guinness. No local beers on offer so it was either that or more Italian fizz.

…then it was back to the van,  tucked in between the yachts on the harbour…

….to watch the sunset…

… and sample the town’s most famous product.

Next stop we move on to the Mani peninsula.

Week 25 – Greece Week 2 – Ancient Olympia to Koroni

Stuart discovers Greece

This week we dropped the pace of travel a bit and for the most part stayed in the one spot on the Messinian peninsula.  That’s the left hand ‘finger’ of the three peninsulas which point southwards from the Peloponnese in mainland Greece.

The spot we chose was Koroni, a small harbour town between the Gulf of Messinia and the Ionian sea. It has a vibrant feel to it even though it was off season and there were few if any other tourists around.

Sitting at any of the harbour front bars, the views across the harbour to the Mani Peninsula – the second ‘finger’  –  were mesmerising…

…. like this one taken at sunset when the still snow capped peaks of the Taygetos mountains looked like a mirage.

Before settling at Koroni, we stopped off here…

…at a campsite beside Glifa beach with a view across the sea to Zakynthos, a peaceful spot where the nearest shop was in a village about 2 k away, a pleasant walk…

…which took us past olive groves….

…and orchards of lemon trees…

..and small farms…

…which were all in soft focus on our return journey thanks to the local shopkeeper who was in celebratory mood.

He’d just become a grandfather to twins and insisted we join him in toasting the new arrivals with ouzo and then more ouzo, washed down with wine and more wine.

We got plastered…

…and map drawing to describe where we were from became more challenging.

Despite my efforts at cartography, our host still thought we were from Holland.

Ancient Olympia:

Heading south down the peninsula, we stopped off at Ancient Olympia where it looked like the flame was out of control.

We had a wander around the ruins of the site where the Games were held every four years from 776 BC to 393 AD ….

…and saw the spot where the Olympic Torch is still lit every Games…

…and with the Spring flowers, it was a beautifully peaceful place for a stroll….

…and the fields of colourful blooms brought back good memories of London 2012 to Stuart.  Those wild flower meadows of London 2012 have only recently been replaced as his laptop screensaver by a fish. Sorry by The Salmon A fish in every country (plus one).

Camped up in Koroni:

Then finally we reached Koroni and the sun was shining so we decided to stay a while and do…..well…. not very much which is why this post is so much shorter than other weeks.

We’ve been exploring the town ….

.. and become regulars at Angelica bakery where she’s adept at ensuring you buy more than a loaf by insisting you smell what has just come out of the oven….so apple pies one day, cheese and spinach pies the next.

And walking up the cobbled lanes to the hill overlooking the harbour….

…there are the ruins of the Venetian Castle …

….with great views over the town below.

We’ve had some good food ….like this plate of grilled sardines…

….followed by a spoon sweet of delicious sweet grape preserve, served on a teaspoon with  yoghurt.

And back at the campsite, the Campervanamatters kitchen was producing more modest fare…

….like lunches of tsatski and salmon..

….and barbecues lit with olive pips….

….which make a very decent fire…

…leaving  leftovers for the local residents……

….and their children.

We also got to see some football…here’s  Koroni and Kalamata in action.

And by just staying put for a few days, there’s been time to crack on with the knitting project….still to be sewed together and dropped stitches recovered but almost there just as the sun is shining and the last thing we’ll need is a big woolly blanket.

And we’ve finally opened up the cribbage box but remembering the rules and doing the maths is making a muggins of us both…

There’s also been plenty of time for reading. The new page now added to the blog ‘Molly’s Book/DVD Club’ has some of the books read so far but any recommendations on a good read will be gratefully received.

So it’s been a very relaxed week and Koroni was the ideal spot for it.