Ancona, Italy

We are back to our old ways after a verrry lazy tour of the Peloponnese: Currently camped at a supermarket in Ancona, Italy, after a fairly long drive today.

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Poppies, Italy

Our ferry trip was pretty flawless, included a smooth-as-silk crossing (Niki disagrees with that characterization), hot shower in the morning, and a sneakily-made tea & coffee. The ferry is a great way to travel from Italy to Greece, and we both had very good sleeps, rocked gently as we progressed past numerous islands, with the moon casting a wonderful light over it all. Almost.

Today was a little more ragged. Departing the ferry takes you down a narrow road where they try to fit 2 lanes of traffic in a zone made for one large truck. Predictably, I suppose, Niki did the good thing and folded her side mirror in (expensive, at €500 each!!), I hugged my left-hand side of the road and … Bang! Clipped the side mirror of a Bulgarian truck. Pulled over, indicated to the driver that I was so apologetic, so he nodded, smiled, and moved on. Almost.

Tonight, after not seeing a train in 4 months, Italia Rail is doing its best to impress us with the size and modernity of its fleet, sending a train past every 7 minutes. We are duly impressed, and I’m certain that, later, we will be lulled to sleep by the regularity of traffic passing by.

The day was a bit of a blur, covering over 400km, but much of it over detours, single lane traffic with worker cones stretching for miles. We even saw a few workers, and one did seem to be carrying a bucket of some sort, so we felt satisfied in paying our €37 toll fee for the day. To be fair, this was so much a better option than crawling through coastal towns. And all along the road the countryside is just ablaze with poppies, so much so the fields seemed on fire. The vineyards, bare when we last passed, are now a multi-shaded green, and, truthfully, made the day a bit of a visual feast.

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Lovely views all along the road

Another 400km+ tomorrow will see us at Lake Como, just off the Swiss border. Lots to do over the next few days, with visiting some friends, doing the bank closure, collecting a ton of Amazon orders (Thanks, again, Susi!) before heading off to France and packing up our household goods for shipping to NZ. Ho Hum – never boring.

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… but it’s free 🙂

Diakopto to Patras

Here we are in the port of Patras, stuck for the next 40 hours or so as we await our ferry back to Bari, Italy. Certainly not the most attractive port, in one of Greece’s less attractive cities. So why here?

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Sunrise, south of Patras

This morning we were at the small town of Diakopto, having spent the night at a free camp next to the beach. Our intent was to catch the small cog railway from Diakopto to Kalavryta, higher up in the very narrow gorge that has been a fairly recent addition to Greece’s declared National Parks. Unfortunately, our luck with the Greek railway system continues. Up bright and early for the 20 minute walk to the station, we were met with a ‘not today’ comment from the lady in the ticket office. This was an improvement from yesterday, when there was no lady in the ticket office.  Still, not the ticket sale response we were looking for. After pointedly halting her conversation to a bevy of friends in the office, she informed us that tomorrow’s train was also uncertain. This mirrored our experience at Katakolo while waiting for the train to Olympis. There we had watched as the 8:30 train departed, filling us with hope that the 10:30 train would also be available. Not so, and watching the minute hand progress towards 11:00am there we had also given up.

With the wind coming up at the beach we decided that we would head off to Patras and see if we could change our booking. No luck, and with parking sites in the city looking a bit dodgy, we have decided to ignore the No Overnight Parking sign and see if we might just stay here. The walk into town was anything but inspiring. The largest Orthodox church in Greece was also not inspiring, even though a website indicates it is the major site of pilgrimage from around the world. Faux Byzantine mosaics and awful modern paintings were not enlivened by the odd church goer kissing various artefacts as they progressed around the church. Begun in 1912 and completed in 1978 (why????) it really does not inspire, by any means, as many other buildings have done.

Hmm – just been disturbed by a horde of skurmunkels running from the police, and this seems to be ongoing – lots of police and lots of migrants waiting in abandoned buildings across the road looking, I presume, to jump a truck headed for Italy. I think we are out of here!

Spent the night at a nice, quiet campsite about 20km from Patras. I think the 40km round trip is worth the effort, and makes for a restful sleep. So we are back in Patras, back on board the ferry for our 18 hour trip to Bari … and then a very hasty trip north to Switzerland.

Epidavros to Athens

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Camping at Epidavros

A couple of thoughts while parked next to a big road leading into Athens.

1. Greece desperately needs a few Marine Sanctuaries!

We have snorkelled in a few places around the Peloponnese, with one major finding: The Aegean is an absolute desert! In our 2 hour snorkel at the Sunken City of Epidavros (more below) we saw … nothing. Not quite true – lots of urchins, a school of mud-coloured fish no more than 5cm long, and one thumb-nail sized, and obviously lost, jellyfish. Nowhere have I seen marine vistas so incredibly devoid of life, and we’ve dived or snorkelled in NZ, South Africa, Philippines, Thailand, Australia… This obviously accounts for the fact that fish (of any reasonable size) are expensive in Greece and, one suspects, is reliant on imports? I’d say this looks like a national emergency requiring immediate attention, but given Greek politics (20 years to get a shipping license …) I’d bet nothing will ever happen.

2. Athens

Took 4 hours this morning to see Athens, and I think we are pretty done. Of course this is reflective of the fact that we are coming to the end of our trip and are probably running out of mental & emotional steam – and Niki’s legs are still sore from climbing the steps to the Paramidi fortress at Nafplio. Nevertheless, sharing a hillside crowded with thousands of tourists, limited information boards, very limited visual attraction – well, done. I’m not really knocking the Parthenon, but there’s not really much to see, is there? And if you don’t have technicolour artistic renditions in your head, well, it’s all a bit dull. Add to that the fact that it’s placed in what must rank as Europe’s ugliest capital city (monochrome 2 storey buildings, dilapidated) and serving the worst (and most expensive) Greek food – might explain why we are leaving in the morning! Note: Niki disagrees about my view on the Parthenon, but I feel this is purely an emotional reaction. Oh, and the campsite, the only one in Athens, is next to Athens’ busiest road. Fortunately, traffic speed is somewhat reduced by the state of the road, but this results in non-melodic thumps! Sleeping will be interesting.

I promised Niki I would not head this section “More Broken Buildings” so, instead, have a look at a selection of Cultural Reminders:

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On the Upside:

Spent 3 lovely days in Epidavros, which included the obligatory ‘OMG this road is too narrow for our van’ entry. The water was warmer than it’s been anywhere in the Peloponnese, visibility was excellent and the waters generally calm. None of the above accounts for the fact that Niki and I missed the Sunken City of Epidavros. This may be explained by the fact that I was expecting the city walls to be around 3 metres below the surface. Consequently, we swam around the bay (a moonscape of pebble surface devoid of life) until we had quite traversed the bay. Giving up we walked the kilometre back along the beach, only to stumble upon a sign pointing to the Sunken City, and no more than 200 metres from our campsite. Hmm, on with the fins and stuff, head out into the bay, to swim right over the collapsed walls in about 1 metre of water. Given the fact that it comprises 2 houses (‘City’ seems to be an elastic term) we were soon done, and washed up on shore for well deserved beers. Dinner, though was excellent, and thanks to Russ and Juliet for the long trek they made to take us out. It’s been great meeting people along our trip, and it’s been great to spend time with them.

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So, tomorrow we’ll head off, Athens thankfully ticked (no, I don’t think we’ll be back) and try to find somewhere less peopled along the coast. Not sure where, as the Camping Athens wifi is somewhat like the Yeti – rumoured to exist, occasional sightings reported, but no firm evidence.

From Cannibals to Anschluss

Yes, this is one of those days that seem to pile experiences atop each other until the cup really does run over.

But before that:

From Tyros to Epidavros via Nafplio

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Washing Day

We spent 3 nights at Zaritsi Beach Camp, a delightful stop that turned from one night into three as we lazed around the Peloponnese. The weather, unfortunately, had a bit to do with this as the wind picked up strength, the sea went to dark grey, and whitecaps enlivened the bays. With such a strong wind we opted to remain in the protection of the campsite for an extra couple of days, before heading off to a couple of free camp sites. The first of these, at Paralia Agiou Andrea, a name that has 4 times as many vowels than the number of town inhabitants, was removed from the road, a small harbour with 2? Houses… Nondescript would be apt.

 

IMG_6614Nafplio was a little different. We parked on the huge carpark fronting the small boat harbour, which housed everything but small boats. Price tags to these boats runs into tens of millions of dollars: `Bliss`, for example, rents out at €135,000 per week. No wonder there is an increasing conversation about the ‘have-alls’!

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We climbed the 800+ steps from Nafplio to the Venetian Palamidi Fortress up the hill. Built during the Second Venetian period (1711-1715) it was conquered by the Ottomans before completion, passing to the Greeks in 1822 on liberation. The fortress is stunning, with such clear examples of interlocking bastions and covering fields of fire that make you realise what an art form the design and construction of this fortress was, particularly taking the improvements gunpowder technology was bringing to the battlefield.

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The Old Town was, again, a lovely place to spend dinner (yes, Niki eating out again!), but also nice to spend with fellow travellers Russ and Juliet. Feeding 4 of us, including 2 litres of wine and coffees for just on €50 explains, to an extent, our growing appreciation of the opportunities offered by travelling Greece.

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However…

 

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I continue to appreciate Greek parking…

I don’t think we have yet encountered anyone expressing to us a New Zealanders (apologies to both Japies and Kiwis) their concern for ongoing cannibalism being experienced in NZ’s deepest, most removed jungles. Hmmm… here was a clear case of a little knowledge being a very dangerous thing. Our otherwise very nice (although garrulous to the nth degree) seller of prime Greek honey, had, at some stage, read a book (article?) that indicated the Maori had resorted on occasion to cannibalism, and was concerned the practice continued. I did, to be fair, try hard to alleviate her fears in this regard. Add that to conversations in a shop we had stopped at to buy some gifts that went something like this: ‘Yes, the stone in that necklace clearly aligns with your aura…` ‘I know, I know, and the crystal has such healing properties that I simply must …’ Aargh – bit my tongue, remained silent, apart from a bit of a laugh when Niki looked at me, waiting, perhaps, for an outburst. Nafplio is clearly not an international centre of cultural knowledge?

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Our neutral Swiss van post Anschluss

Which brings me to the Anschluss bit of the post. Picture, for a moment, the campsite. Limited waterfront parking for 4 campervans willing to cough up the extra €5 per night for the privilege. One row back, German campers. To the left, German campers. In we come with our little neutral Swiss van and park in our (paid for) allocated spot – which, unfortunately, cuts off the rear Germans from their seaside view. Sorry. We’d just put our our mat, chairs and table when, with a ‘humpff’, our rear neighbours packed up their tables and chairs and proceeded to relocate to our front, cutting our poor Swiss van (neutral, surrounded, and now land-locked) from a resource fairly paid for. Consequently, I end up reflecting on poor Austria and its neighbourly Anschluss in 1938 …

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Boys and their multi-million dollar toys … 🙂

So, hoping for good weather tomorrow so we can snorkel over the drowned town of Epidavros (multiple spellings!!), if I can persuade Niki that summer is, indeed, here!

Monomvasia to Tyros: What a Drive!

Let’s do this as a travel blog kind of day, starting with my photo of the day! This is us trying to navigate through one of the many small towns from Monomvasia around the coast to Tyros:

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Seriously – this is the main coastal road around the Peloponnese! What the photo doesn’t show is that to get around any corner we had to fold in the side mirrors. It also doesn’t show that this is a TWO-WAY ROAD. As I’m a pretty ordinary driver, but a pretty crap reverser, I think my aura preceded me and all oncoming traffic pulled off the road or reversed. And just to show this was not isolated, heres a little montage from the next village:

Yes Susi, you do drive through the town square to get through the village.

So, drenched in sweat after each village we breathed, drank in the scenery, and thoroughly enjoyed the drive. To put some perspective to this, I think this was one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever had. This is, no doubt, aided by the fact that the van remained undamaged, we never really had a nervous break-down, town pressures were alleviated by smiling inhabitants waving us by and the day’s end brought us to this:

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I’ve put together a slide-show of just some of the sights taken in over the day, but this necessarily lacks the smells of the forest, sea, orange blossoms and fynbos as we moved around the various headlands. What a day!

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Earlier we had climbed to the top town in Monomvasia, and it would be wrong to ignore just how pretty this Venetian fortified town is. Built in the 12thC, with its church still standing, and some of the frescoes still somewhat intact. As with all the religious buildings in Greece, this underwent original Frankish building and ownership, Venetian improvements, surrender to the Ottoman Turks after the collapse of Constantinople, return to Venice for less than 100 years before returning to the Turks, and then, finally, emancipation in the 1820’s.

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