I’ve quite looked forward to our monthly accounting and to see how we are doing against budget. This month has been mostly in Greece, hailed as one of the cheaper European options. We arrived in Greece on 9th April, with the previous 9 days spent in Italy, another perceived cheaper option.
So, how did we do?
Pretty well, actually. Our big blowout was for the ferry from Bari to Patras at €485, although this is a return ticket. Eating and drinking out was over budget, but this is easily explained by the number of pictures taken this past month of Niki sitting at various restaurants. This has been more than balanced by our reduction in purchasing supermarket food.
Given that we are having a beer and appetizer on a daily basis, and add the frequent dinners, I’m amazed we have anything in our budget at all. A 500ml beer today, at a restaurant and seated right at the water’s edge, cost €3. A half litre of wine has generally cost €3, and its drinkable (although, to be fair, I’m pretty indiscriminate!). A full meal is in the €8 range, appetizers are €3-€5, and we are now in the habit of each having one of those rather than a meal – just can’t eat all that food.
So we are €463 under budget, but living very well. We have spent far more time in campsites than ever before, but then only used one tank of diesel.
A couple of potential problems coming up though. In order to get our work visas for our next job we need to send our passports off to Singapore. Not quite sure how to do this and travel. We are also going to be facing a potential problem in selling our van at the end of this trip – If anyone knows of someone looking for an outstanding Bürstner campervan, with 22000km on the clock and still under warranty, let me know!
In the meantime, sun is out, just been for a swim, and tomorrow will be heading off to an island noted (again) as the most beautiful in the Aegean. Can’t all be worries, can it?
It’s been an idyllic overnight stop at the beach just over the hill from Diros Caves – and this really is a Must See!
To get here took some time. Not the brightest move, travelling on Easter Monday. The traffic was certainly much heavier than its been, made up, partially, by the lack of heavy trucks. Just to put this in perspective, take a look at these 4 shots of the main road (yes, seriously, the main coastal road) between Kalogria (Stupa) and Diros:
As a pretty average driver I think I’m tested about every 4 minutes. On the upside, my sweat pores just close up due to over-exertion, and the latter part of the day passes in relative physical comfort.
To make up for this, the drive is beautiful. The slide show below is taken by Niki as we wind our way down the coast.
Campsite last night was on the beach, 10 minute walk from the cave entrance. Stunning sunset capped a great day.
Up at the (relative) crack of dawn saw us arrive too early at the ticket office, too early for the boat trip, too early for the staff at the (open) coffee shop, and too early to avail ourselves of the opportunity to avail ourselves of providing constructive feedback. Don’t you love the non-pc ‘Complaints’, supported by the absolute lack of a mechanism by which you can complain – no forms, papers nor pens. I like that…
The trip through the cave was just fantastic. Lighting was kept to a reasonable level, the tourist boats were remarkably quiet, the local penchant for smoking everywhere was curtailed … and the environment was simply superb. A massive arrangement of stalactites and other features mirrored in the still waters around the boat. Two negatives: Niki asked our guide if he could translate to English (he speaks English) to be told, ‘No’. No buggering around here! Second, is that we could have spent hours there, rather than the half hour tour. I understand time is money, but we’ll not be this way again, and the experience has been unique. Reflecting – the tickets were €13, and I’d guess a NZ experience of anything similar would set you back 10 x that (hello, Waitomo Caves!). The slide show below is just some of what you see.
The wind has come up a bit, so no swimming today. A pity as yesterday the water temp was up to 19° due to the bay and wind direction – glad I made use of the opportunity when I did. We’ll spend another night here before heading off to Gythio on hopefully quieter roads tomorrow.
With Orthodox Easter this weekend and with many places consequently closed. We’ve take the very decadent option of staying in a campsite for the past 4 nights. It’s been well worth it!
We arrived in the little town of Kalogria, somewhat hyped by the flamboyant descriptions in the local tourist guide. To quote:
A few kilometers from Kalamata, almost 42km. The beach is an oasis in the wild landscape of Mani. It is truly beautiful and it is hard for someone who has visited it to be able to forget it. It is a beach with green blue waters, that on seeing it captivates the traveler and makes him believe that he is on a paradise on earth. The impressive beach has cool and almost frozen waters since four of the springs of Taigetos end in its sandy seabed.
On arriving here on Wednesday afternoon we were less than impressed. The sky was grey, the visibility hazed in smoke and mist. This was made worse when, on occasion, it drizzled red mud, leaving the windscreen an opaque mess. A huge weather system over the Sahara has blown dust as far north as Belgium. Here, further south, the effects are quite dramatic, with the snow covered peaks turning ochre, vehicles looking like participants in the Paris-Dakar, and our moods slightly inhibited. The weather remained pretty much the same on Thursday, Friday the weather cleared, Saturday was a ‘Wow – so this is what they were talking about’, Sunday was, well, Sunday – more below, and now it’s Easter Monday, and we’ll eventually get back on the road. We’ve never spent three nights anywhere, so this has been a novel experience.
Laundry on a wet day!
We are camped at Camping Kalogria – a very friendly site in a park that has been left somewhat to nature – draw your own conclusions. We are directly opposite the house owned by Niko Kazantzaki who moved here in 1917 and met a local character by the name of George Zorbas as foreman in his newly acquired coal mine. So who are all these people? Well, this is the basis of ‘Zorba the Greek’. Don’t plead ignorance on this. This is ‘Eat Pray Love’ for the Pre-Millennials (aka ‘The Selfie Generation’) …
We took the opportunity to cycle to the next town of Agio Nikolaos, along a very well-maintained coastal cycle path. Breakfast on the harbour consisted, for Niki, of pancakes and about half litre of honey – no skimping on sweets in this country.
Sunday we strolled down to the beach at 10:00am (dawn is late in Greece …) beset by aromatic smoke. The tradition on Easter Sunday is that everybody has spit roast lamb. Yes!!! Lamb on the beach with ice cold beer.
Lamb spit, Kalogria
Lamb spit, Kalogria
As it turned out, however, this didn’t happen. Our very nice neighbours (hi Rus & Juliet) informed us that our campground was putting on a free lunch – the owner was most offended when inquired of the price. We, of course, got there very late. Nevertheless, the manager and his crew gathered up lamb, tzatziki, roast potatoes and red-dyed eggs … and glasses of wine. What a pleasant afternoon spent with people who may well have been strangers, but, given the time, turned out to be a joyous group of friends.
So, it’s been a lazy few days, a little out of our character, but thoroughly enjoyable for all that. Our plan for today is to head off to the parking lot at the Diros Caves, hoping that the recent rains which resulted in shortened cave visits would be a thing of the past – time will tell.
We are parked at the tiny harbour at Kardamili (substitute ‘y’ for ‘i’ anywhere) and it is simply gorgeous. This followed a fantastic drive from Agio Konstantinos, all of 45km away – but, in my defence, a very interesting 45km!
To make up for this, our next stop is only 8km away … The road went up and over the spine of the Peloponnese, mostly in very good condition and drivers who were very considerate of our bumbling progress. The air was quite thick with smoke – this is obviously burning season, and even the snow capped peaks in the near distance took on a very brownish hue. The van is just caked – it seemed to drizzle for 10 seconds every half hour, and that has coated the van with a thick brown goo – our lovely skylight is now a washed brown curtain. Hope our next campsite has a hose?
The walk through Kardamili was lovely. This was the major harbour for Sparta in ancient times, and is mentioned in Homer’s Iliad as one of 7 cities that were offered to Achilles by Agememnon as dowry to marry one of his daughters. The Old Town also has Venetian fortifications from the 17th C, although not in a great state of repair, but with an interesting mix of Venetian, Byzantine and Greek architecture.
The town now seems to be on the up, with numerous new residential and tourist accommodations being built, occasionally even tastefully done. Tomorrow off to another Kalogria beach – caused havoc when Niki first put in our coordinates a week ago, but now much easier to find as it’s just around the headland. Weather is set to improve (marginally), and I’m working myself up to getting the wetsuit on and doing some snorkelling… time and temperature will tell.
We travelled all of 40km from Methoni to Koroni yesterday, alnong a very winding, but mercifully empty, road that took us over the spines from the westernmost finger of the Peloponnese to the next large bay.
That took us to the ancient town (well, they’re all ancient, no?) of Koroni. It too has a marvellous Venetian fortress overlooking the town, which, unfortunately, is in poor state of repair. Again, just really impressive the way the walls and towers rise from sea level, but a bit saddened to see so much of the curtain wall collapsed, and significant damage to the main walled structure itself.
The town was pretty much what we had been anticipating for small villages along the coast, but perhaps in better repair and with a sense of more money spent on infrastructure than I had anticipated. Narrow streets paralleled the quay but seemed more optimistic than similar towns in Italy. Perhaps that’s what it means to be Greek?
Out for dinner at a very Greek restaurant (ie catering for Greeks rather than on the harbour catering for visitors): €2.50 for half litre of wine, €5 for delicious stuffed tomatoes and green pepper, €8.50 for lamb shanks – I think that, even with our €450 ferry costs we’ll still be looking good in this month’s budget. We’ve also filled our fridge with essentials from the supermarket, such as 5 litres of white wine (€10!! Sorry New Zealand, but it don’t got to be boutique Chardonnay all the time!), 1kg of home made olives (€5), and, today, a pile of strawberries for… yes, you guessed right, €5.
Dinner, €5 s’berries
Our international sugar collection
Today’s drive of 45km was a little more challenging and took over an hour, even though I managed to hit 60km/h on the two straight sections. Driving through towns can be a little stressful. There are not many towns where the main street actually allows two cars to pass each other. To add to that, I’m constantly met by cars who insist on scrambling towards me, then stopping dead in the street unable to decide how to now scrape by. I have become the most courteous driver in Greece, happily pulling into parking bays to allow oncoming traffic to squeeze by – but you can end up parked all day if you don’t venture down the road yourself!
Camping at Koroni was a little … rustic. Our need to empty our toilet cassette means two nights free camping followed by a night in a campsite, pretty much determined by the complete absence of dumping facilities along the coast, and I couldn’t be bothered sneaking our cassette into public toilets or gas station toilets. If you can bear with me, please explain how this toilet designer was allowed near pen and paper: Imagine looking at the toilet bowl from the front towards the back. Like a medieval castle’s glacis the porcelain slopes from the top under the water cistern, towards the front of the bowl, in the process passing directly underneath your bottom. The waste pipe is located right at the front of the toilet ie towards your knees should you be seated. If you’ve imagined this correctly, you would have a grimace about now as you imagine where your deposits now land. Add to that a trickle of water dripping out of calcified pipes and the result is, clearly, a mess. I may well start a separate page on toilets because, for all the horror they can generate, they really are needed.
Koroni also seems to be the country’s cat capital – never seen so many cats in one town, slinking about and begging for scraps. Again I’m a little sorry that the numerous red tailed hawks seem reluctant to take a chance on a feline feed. This fellow seemed comfortable.
Tonight we are camped just up from the beach. Weather is a little grim – breeze blowing, overcast, and the mountains just to the North-East are still snow-covered. Campers just across the narrow hump-backed bridge from us who have been coming this way for 30 years are complaining this is the coldest April they’ve ever had. Hmmm – will get better sometime.