Gythio -Monemvasia

Continuing our slow perambulation around the Peloponnese we stayed for two nights at the campsite right on the beach at Gythio, the original Spartan harbour. A short cycle from the campsite to the town was rewarded with great views … and indescribable traffic chaos on May Day (but clearly better natured than similar chaos in France!).

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Gythio main street … Hmmm!

Still, it gave plenty of opportunity to have a beer and watch the world crawl by – slowly. Our brother-in-law, a traffic connoisseur of note, would be hard-pressed to choose between this and Bangkok street scenes – the latter might win as a result of the great traffic magnitude. But, all friendly, no hooters, no raised voices – Doable.

 

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Yesterday we drove from Gythio to Monemvasia along some pretty good roads, although, as everywhere, travelling through the towns was tight, slow, and dependent on oncoming traffic’s goodwill. We are currently parked on the wharf at the end of the causeway  leading to the old town and fortress of Monemvasia, the first town to be liberated in the Greek War of Independence, 1821. It is gorgeous!

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Monemvasia town square (Lower Town) with the Upper Town walls visible on the cliffs above.
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23 churches for a town of a couple of hundred. Hmm.

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We’ve also been lucky in bumping into nice neighbours and have spent the last few days meeting up at the end of the day and having a few beers as well as some shared dinners- it’s been great.

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With new neighbours, Russ & Juliet

Some Bad News!

Getting the timing right to drop off the van for sale in Switzerland and move our household goods, currently stored in the middle of France (Thanks Scott & Marthe-Sophie) in part to New Zealand, in part to Luanda, Angola, was always going to be tricky. Well, it’s proven more difficult than that!

To sell the van back to the company we bought it from is the easiest solution, and I accept the significant hit we’ll take in doing so. Unfortunately, they have also demanded the van before the end of May. Consequently … No Sardinia and, shortly, bye-bye van. We will drop the van off in Basel on May 28, travel back to NZ for 6 weeks (sorry kids) and then return to ship our stuff from France to NZ and Luanda, before heading to Luanda for Niki’s new job. Chuck in closing bank accounts, moving TVs from Germany to France somewhere in the mix, not yet being able to book the (rapidly filling) Luanda flights etc etc … If it sounds complex, that may well be the truth. We’re feeling a little dejected today at the sudden termination of our tour, but it seems we have little choice here – might as well get on with it.

On the upside – what a blast it’s been. Check our neighbours exhibiting non-camping behaviour in a restricted zone 🙂

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April 2019 Budget

It’s budget time again!

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?

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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.

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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!

IMG_6475.JPGIn 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?

Diros Cave

It’s been an idyllic overnight stop at the beach just over the hill from Diros Caves – and this really is a Must See!

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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:

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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.

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Campsite last night was on the beach, 10 minute walk from the cave entrance. Stunning sunset capped a great day.

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IMG_6394Up 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.

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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.

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Kalogria (Round 2)

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!

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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.

IMG_6291We 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.

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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.

IMG-20190429-WA0000As 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.

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Kardamili

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?

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Mount Taygetus 2407m

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.