Pylos to Methoni

We continue to make breakneck progress down the west Peloponnese coast, doing 11km today and 8km yesterday. At this rate we’ll be taking out Greek citizenship before we leave. And why would that be a bad thing?


We are still in the vicinity of  Navarino Bay,  site of an important victory for the Greeks in their War of Independence against the Turks in 1827. The battle itself must surely count as one of the most lop-sided in history, with the combined Allied fleet suffering 700 dead and wounded, 0 ships lost; Turko-Egyptian, 4,000 dead and wounded, 60 ships destroyed. It was the last great engagement of wooden ships of war.


The area is redolent with history. We spent the better part of the day at the fortress in Methoni. This was an unexpected WOW! We were up early this morning and on our bicycles by 9:00am, really enjoying the 11km ride from Pylos to Methoni. A pre-intellectual cup of coffee was enjoyed along the town’s main road, offering us plenty of oohaaah moments as we watched traffic negotiate, in both directions, a single lane road with cars parked on both sides. From the comfort of my coffee table I still generated nervous sweat rings!

Niki carefully coordinated her colour schemes with local coffee shops

The castle is huge at around 93 acres, and I’d much rather use the term fortress. It encompassed some 800 buildings at its peak, but the purpose was always as a defensive fortification against the Turks, with defensive walls 11 metres high and 4m thick. Built in 1209 it retains the sense of magnitude and power it must have projected in the region. It fell in 1500AD, just 50 years after the fall of Constantinople. The site itself has been fortified since the 7thC BC, and was a very important trading area for the Byzantine empire, until taken over by the Venetians (1209)), lost to the Turks (1500), Venetians (1685), Turks (1715), and eventually Greeks (well, French actually, but nevertheless) in 1828.

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We were so impressed with Methoni that we decided to move from our perfectly OK spot on the wharf at Pylos. This was made easier by Methoni having a very accessible beach, and our discovery of Modon Restaurant, where Niki’s new best friend served us the absolutely best Tzatziki and Taramasalata (fish roe salad) we’ve ever had. For €12 we had a homemade lemonade, homemade Tarama and Tzatziki, loads of great bread and a large beer – we left full.

So, a great day in Pylos, which is just stunningly beautiful, followed by a stunning day (and great swim) in Methoni.

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If the weather plays along we might spend two nights here, catch up with some beach bats and suntan – tough, tough life! Greece is really turning out to be just as everyone said: Beautiful scenery, amazingly friendly and generous people … and some challenging roads. Oh – and to think that we are currently less than 1° from being at the furtherest point south of the entire mainland Europe!!

Katakolo -Elia Beach – Kalo Nero – Pylos

It’s been a lazy few days as we move down the coast. Today we are in the little town of Gialova, just across from our next destination at Pylos. And today, Ta-Dah, first swim of the European summer! If you know Niki you’ll know her virulent opposition to cold water. Hence the wetsuit top. Nevertheless, thoroughly enjoyed the swim on a sun-swept beach, hardly a breeze, but with a thunderstorm building over the mountains behind us, with a near constant roll of thunder.

We are at the Erodios Campsite, a little luxury afforded as this is our first paid campsite in 10 days, and necessitated, in part, by our need to get some washing done. We are spending two nights here as the campsite is great and we have a section 2 meters from the beach. The view from the van is simply stunning: Headlands sweep round both right and left, aquamarine  waters, islands in the bay, and the town of Pylos to the left, spreading up from the small harbour.

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We took the bikes out yesterday and cycled along a good gravel road, sea to the left, marshlands and lakes to the right, to arrive at a stunning headland. Not content with our short cycle we headed around the lakes to what has been described as Greece’s most beautiful beach. Wow!

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The road there went from good gravel to rutted gravel to no gravel to farmtrack to deply gouged mud track … You get the picture. I captured this on film, with Niki coming off her bike as the front wheel sticks in mud at the bottom of a deep rut. Unfortunately, due the the language it contains and the fact that Niki teaches young children, I’m not going to post it – but boy, is it worth a laugh! So, with mud spread all over Niki’s neatest shorts we arrived at the beach. On the way home we decided to avoid our original track and proceed on tar, before heading across to the campsite along another track. Bad move, as it turned out that the track simply disappeared into the marsh. Backtracked, took another route, same result, backtracked … Eventually back home before sundown to enjoy an unlimited hot water shower and more wine.

And the road deteriorates …
Niki’s cycle route …

The last few days we’ve been in the company of two very nice German couples, sharing campsites as we migrate down the Peloponnese.   It’s been very stress-free as everyone has met in the afternoon, having shared GPS coordinates earlier in the day – Thanks Niki. It has provided a bit of security, but now we are back on our own as everyone has set off according to their own timeframes and agendas.

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We are definitely not going to rush down the coast but it probably means fewer posts over the next few weeks …

Patras to Katakolo

It’s been a gentle few days travelling down the coast, making all of 85km in 5 days. This may well set the tone for our trip around the Peloponnese.  I think that, if the weather improves, we may slow down even further. Woke to the clattering of hail this morning around 4:00am – if rain sounds heavy on our fiberglass roof, then you can imagine that hail is so deafening as to make conversation impossible.

We are currently parked on the wharf in the tiny town of Katakolo, closed until the cruise ship arrives on Monday. The town is clearly geared for this, with 3 ATM machines right next to each other (versus the one per town so far) and prices at the one open tavern just really expensive. What are we using for comparison? Well, yesterday we were at Olympia …

Our little van, Katakolo
Katakolo railway station

We were up in time to see that the train from Katakolo to Olympia was, as advertised, running, with departure times at 8:40 and 10:30. The 8:30 train departed pretty much on time (at 8:40), and having written down the schedule the day before, we took our time having breakfast, duly arriving at the station at 10:20. Waited until 10:45, gave up, jumped in the van and drove the 35km to Olympia, which was really easy in any case.


I’ve been warned that Olympia is a little underwhelming, and, for the ruins itself, this may be true. We, however, began with the museum, which is just SPECTACULAR! They boast the largest collection of items of war in Greece, as well as thousands of items that are quite breathtaking in their craftmanship and variety.

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Three items stand out for me: The massive work depicting the fight of the centaurs and Lapiths, the statue of Hermes, and Militades’ helmet. An odd collection that bears some explanation.


The sculpture of the Lapiths, a Greek tribe, destroying the Centaurs after the latter, drunk at a wedding feast, had abducted Lapith women, is astonishing. The scale of the sculpture also gives an impression of what the Temple of Zeus must have looked like, as well as its impressive size. The figures, the emotions portrayed – how this is captured in stone is just remarkable.



In ‘Gates of Fire’ by Steven Pressfield – a superb read of the battle of Thermopylae, There is a quite heartrending scene when Aristodemos is sent home by the Spartans, blinded by an eye infection. Reviled as a coward Aristidemos redeems himself years later at the decisive battle of Marathon against the invading Persians by charging, alone, at an army reputed to be almost 2 million strong. Interestingly enough, he was awarded no honours as his suicidical charge was contradictory to the Spartan battle plan of a cohesive phalanx. In any case, this is Militades’ helmet, an offering at Olympia following the decisive Greek victory at Marathon. Seriously, how cool is that?


Hermes carries the infant god Dionysus, a superb (the best?) surviving statue of the 4thC BC, with most known works from this time known as a result of their Roman copies. The statue is so fine, the features unblemished, The musculature brings the statue to life and the display, understated, really does allow the focus to remain on the 2.1m high statue.


Backtracking a little: After arriving in Patras we drove 20km down the coast to a bar at the beach, spending one night as we just wanted to get our feet under us again. The next day a short (30km) drive took us to the beach at Kalogria, spending 2 nights at a huge carpark (and almost no people), right on the beach. The area is a national park, and we took the opportunity to cycle the park, accompanied by a volume of croaking frogs that was, in some places, load enough that we had to really raise our voices in conversation. This also brought us to an ancient fortified town of Teichos Dymaion, with original fortifications from 1300 B.C, and inhabited until 1700 A.D.

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We’ve also fallen in with a German couple, Kallie and Erika, who have, in the nicest way, asked if they could tag along for security until we are past Methoni – there have been a number of incidents of vans being broken into or harassed. It’s sort of like travelling with Niki’s folks. We share our co-ordinates for the coming night’s stop, meet up there and then, perhaps, join for a walk or gentle cycle. This has worked well, and we also appreciate the sense of security this offers – not that we’ve had any issues so far.

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I’m asking Niki to do some research on the museum to jog my memory – she’s come back with: ‘Oh, Easter is coming and the traditional meal is roasted whole lamb with tzatziki and olives accompanied by roasted potatoes and spinach & cheese pie.’ Well, Greece may yet prove to be something for everyone!




Navigation: A Daily Chore

Spare a thought for poor Niki. No sooner has she mastered Italian in order to find our way down the boot, but now she has to master a new alphabet AND language – and a new Navi system. More on that shortly.

So, how do we get around? Before starting on our trip I spent some time plotting on Google what seemed to be a reasonable itinerary from Switzerland to the UK, quick swing across France, Germany, Denmark, a rapid drive through Sweden to eventually arrive at our destination of Norway, or, specifically, Narvik. In this I had tremendous help through using websites of travellers who have, almost on a daily basis, blogged their experiences. Quite naturally, perhaps, we tended to stick, there or thereabouts, to campsites / parking spots that others had recommended or used. As we became more comfortable we tended to find more of our own out-of-the-way spots. We weren’t particularly fussy, so roadsides, train stations and supermarkets have featured quite heavily, so too forests and harbours. Our navigation system in the van spat the dummy early in the trip – it’s occasionally recovered, but all in all, pretty bloody useless. It doesn’t help that we have maps from 2012, that the system itself is clunky and slow, nor that error (out of memory) notes just shut the system down, including the CD player, Bluetooth, radio and iPod (yes, I still have a number of those).

We’ve really had no planning for Greece, apart from knowing we would do the Peloponnese peninsula, and not rush. Again, using other blogs has given us a brief overview of some beautiful places to see. So, planning looks like this: We (Niki, mostly) decides on the next key spot. We check for distances and then look up the place using our home MiFi (10Gb per month). Niki refers to a very useful app: Park4Night. This app is free (Thank You), but if you want to use it offline it costs €9.99 per year. The app marks, on a local map, different categories of places to stay: Free stops, paid stops (sometimes campsites, sometimes stops with services, including Aires in France and Stellplatz in Germany), the types of services available, dumping services along the way, laybyes and forest stops, beaches etc. The information is generated by users and generally very accurate, with comments being especially helpful. The GPS coordinates have proven to be very accurate.

Next to a pick your own berry farm
Overnight at a pub: ‘Camperstop’ app
Parking lot, Carrefour
Oak forest – bad choice in wind
Public parking at the beach

This info is now put into our Samsung tablet, taking the place of the absolutely useless Pioneer (you can tell we’ve had issues!). Niki recently purchased CoPilot (€15 per annum) which allows us to enter the van dimensions. So far this has been helpful in preventing us from going down teeny roads, or under bridges <2.8 m high (my nightmare). Of course, no software is going to account for parking in Greece that sees drivers park 3 deep while going to the shop …  Really important here is that CoPilot runs offline once you have downloaded the relevant regional maps for the country you are in. This has also been manageable on MiFi as the maps are not huge (but still very detailed and up to date – so far).

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Our Overnight stops

(On the navigation bar go to Travels / Our Trip Mapped and click on ‘here‘. All our overnight stops, with photos and comments are there.)

A very helpful British couple have also given us all their pins on Maps.Me. They spent 5 months in Greece, so not short of marked spots! In addition, they have added pins from other travellers they’ve met, so, at this point, we have a huge range of possibilities. Now if the weather just played along we could really make use of those pins at beaches.

We remain limited to less than three days without any services – if we had a spare toilet cassette this would be extended, but not possible in our little van. Water is good for three days (daily showers for both of us) and our waste water has never been an issue. Electricity has also not been an issue as our single 100W solar panel just keeps giving. Even with charging a computer at night and using as much lighting as we wish we never approach our limit. Gas has also been much better now that it’s warmer and we don’t have the heater going all day. I expect our 2 x 11kg gas bottles to last around 5 weeks, and at €30 a fill, who cares?

OOOH – Just had to share this!! We are having sliced boiled eggs on salad for dinner tonight and, after battling with shelling eggs for ever, Niki has just shown me this: Crack and peel the top of the egg, do the same for the bottom – now just push the egg out from top to bottom – the shell comes off like a sock! Ha – if we learn something new every day … Hmmm – perhaps some caution with soft-boiled eggs!!



White sandy beaches fronting shimmering turquoise water – Greece!

Not quite the anticipated Greece … yet!

Maybe tomorrow. Today the rain is hosing down, giving us intermittent views across the bay and of the surrounding hillsides, the temperature is a gooseflesh inducing 12°, with a breeze that drops the temperature even further. She’ll be right, though, at some point.



Our last day in Italy, Bari, tried hard to impress us with the more fluid driving style adopted by southern Italians, and, no doubt, an effort to prepare us for Greece. I was, completely, unprepared for cars passing us, in the face of turning traffic, on red lights, and not once, but almost every red light – no, not orange, RED. My best example was of a young mother (I surmise) with young kids (no seatbelts) driving towards us, through a red light, realising she was on the wrong side of the road (i.e. head on towards me), breaking and losing control, coming to an undignified halt across the intersection. I smiled and gave her a wave as she attempted to merge with her side of the traffic again – I really am trying this Zen approach to driving.

We were going to visit a few sights in Bari, but the weather was grim, and we’d already done our touristy stuff in Trani (see below) so we decided to get to the port earlier for our ferry across to Patras, Greece. Just as well, as the ticket seller informed us that we bought the last campervan ticket! Later, on a very empty ferry, I wondered how that was possible – but for a while we felt good about the decision. Getting on to the ferry was a very un-Norwegian type process. No lanes, only two roads which, of course, came to the gate from opposing sides, necessitating that kind of collegial ‘one from that side, one from this side’ type of entry through a restricted gate that characterize Switzerland, for example. This is not Switzerland.

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Ferry costs were €437, return, for the two of us + campervan. Niki’s budget calculator immediately burst into tears, informing us this was 387% over budget, and that it was going to shut down if we continued this irresponsible behaviour. The ferry was an absolute joy, allowing us to hook the van into the 220V socket, giving us electricity. We could also sleep in the van, and it also became a great refuge as a group of 100 Italian students took over the lounge. Italian teachers are to be admired for the way in which they, chameleon-like, just merge into the background, avoiding all interaction with their charges… So, after a beer, we retired to the comfort of the van. Given that we were on a semi-sheltered deck with low sides we are able to see the passing islands as we sped towards Patras. 18 hours of this – not bad!

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Earlier in the day we had taken a walk through the old town of Trani, after spending a somewhat restful night in an open lot opposite the official campsite. I say somewhat because there was a constant stream of very quiet cars proceeding past us to the water’s edge, about 20 meters past us – no doubt to engage in deep and meaningful discussions of Byzantine versus Gothic church architecture, or Byron versus Yates. In any case, an uneventful night. Our walk through town was just lovely, with winding streets, the smallest of town squares, a working old town harbour, and a magnificent Basilica.

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We entered the Basilica – I was a little disappointed, but Niki enjoyed the low roof, the multitude of columns and the sense of intimacy that this engendered. Following a sign pointing upstairs we arrived in … the Basilica – and it was stunning. Downstairs was just the crypt (Saint Nicholas the Pilgrim, AD 1094) – well, live a little, learn a lot! The Basilica is characterized by a very narrow nave, accentuating the unbelievably high ceiling – I just couldn’t get a shot that would adequately capture this.


So that was Italy, for the time being. Really enjoyed our time there, and looking forward to the next instalment of our travel year too.

€3.50 wine cooling naturally
Campsite Trani – Birds!!!