Friday, 21 May 2010

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside!

Written 19th May

We left Pachi and headed west along the old coast road in the glorious sunshine.  Sadly my dad's email recommending the Corinth canal as a place to stop for a look, 'a great feat of construction or destruction depending how you look at it', came in too many miles after the fact, so it flashed beneath us as an unexpected sliver of shimmering blue in a deep ochre chasm.  Apparently if you don't go over the main road bridge but instead go by way of the Old Athens Road through Isthmia there are laybys to stop in for a view down into the depths of this mighty abyss and by all accounts it is worth the look.

En route to Nafplio, by way of as much coast road as possible we also decided against stopping at Epidavros, apparently one of the biggest and best preserved/restored greek theatre and still very much in use.  We have since met some people who say it is stunning, especially if you actually go and see something performed, but hey ho, not going to do that and for now, one empty amphitheatre is starting to look very much like another....

And so, by way of rolling hills, orange plantations and olive groves to Nafplio and the beach stop at Karathona shown on our wilding website.  Which would have been perfect, blue seas, blue skies, pale shingle, vast shady carpark, if the beach had had a bit less rubbish lapping on the shoreline

and the beach café coffee had been cheaper.  I'm not sure whether the response of "€3, there's no one here" elicited by my price of coffee enquiry meant "€3 as it is out of season so I have to cover my costs of being open" or "€3 and hence why there is no one here"...  But either way, we have gone cold turkey on coffee over the last week or so so not the end of the world.

And, only 10 or so other vans there, mostly germans

including this very well packed up little type 25 - so that must be how you fit more pairs of shoes in! - and a lovely quiet night under the trees and stars

to be awoken in the moring by the mellifluous strains of early 80's soft rock ballads wafting towards us from the nearest café, carried by the gentle breeze.  Not what you expect but by no means unpleasant either.

There were people in the sea by 10am, but tempting as it was, we headed on into Nafplio where we parked in the big harbour and met the first proper contingent of motorhoming brits - who happened to be seperately and randomly collected there - that we have come across in months.  Since the Algarve and south westernmost spain anyway.

So we stopped for a chat - it is always nice to meet fellow travellers - and swapped somed some books, then, with stories told, previous destinations in common remarked upon and recommendations swapped, we headed in to town.

Nafplio is a small harbour town which tumbles down from the fortress topped hills

to nestle on the shores of the gulf of Argolikos.  Once the capital of independent Greece following the war of independence from the Turks and the Ottoman Empire in 1821-22, its premier role was superceded by Athens with the establishment of the first Greek monarchy under Otho of Bavaria in 1934, so the town has remained small and elegant, a testament to its Venetian roots.

With its shady typical streets (well, typical for somewhere!) garlanded with swags of impossibly bright bougainvillea,

its wide square bathed in sunshine and surrounded by pavement cafes and the gentle breeze warmly caressing your shoulders, it is pretty much perfect.  The ideal destination to get away from it all and just unwind.

We wandered, considered the climb to the castle, decided against - too lazy - and plumped instead for delicious sticky bites of baklava and other honey soaked pastry goodness on the steps in the main square.  Scrummy.

But, as I have said before, we don't need to 'get away from it all', it is all here, so onwards again and swooping up and down the coast road on the far side of the gulf, we stopped for a shower in a high up layby - this more the showerside view we have come to expect! -

and discovered - disaster! - that the solar shower has sprung a leak where the pipe joins the bag - rubbish!  Clearly even the manufacturers think its a gimmick and  don't expect it to get serious use...  An attempy at mending it with great globs of bathroom sealant has been effected but we shall see - we might either need a new one or Will might have to advance his plans for a more serious attempt at hot water - installation of a black plastic pipe coiled across the roof of the van, which in the final iteration will be connected to an insulated tank underneath the van with the water circulating by means of a small electric pump - which would be a reasonably trivial undertaking at home but not really feasible on the road.  Mind you, there are also plans for fixing up the roof (which a previous owner has driven under a too low barrier) with the aim of installing a skylight in the middle, sinking solar panels into back half and shaving enough off the top to fit under 2.10m height restrictions, so the solar heated hot water plan may need to wait for that exercise....

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, sailing along the glorious coast road. 

We stopped at in the pretty fishing village of Plaka for a sit by the waterside (me) and an attempt at fishing (Will). He has been recently reminded of the as unused fishing rod bought on a whim in Portugal and the necessity of catching me €15 worth of fish for dinner in order to justify said purchase. 

We have no idea what we're doing, when or where to fish and what type of bait to use so no real surprise that he had no luck on this occasion, but he is now quite good at casting and a random passing dutchman (stolling not flying sadly) confirmed he had baited the hook correctly (well, confirmed that he had threaded the small shimpy things on it in the right manner anyway - even though they keep coming off - not that small shrimpy things are the appropriate thing to use) which is a start.  

I am also hatching a plan for some expert guidance and a last ditch attempt at justification of the thing before we have to go home but more on that anon. 

So, having fed the fish, if not caught them, we turned inland at Leonidido in the setting sun and up through the magnificent craggy gorge,

through the pine forests

and out to the roof of the world on top of the Parnonas mountains.

Where we reached the end of the road.  For the day anyway.

Obviously the road did continue, albeit in a new incarnation, and we made our way back to the coast at Monemvassia.

Described in our 1000 places book as the Greek Mont-St-Michel which once surveyed and controlled the surrounding seas like the Rock of Gibraltar, Monemvassia is a fortified  Byzantine town jutting out on a craggy peninsula which was separated from the mainland by an earthquake in 375AD.

Consisting of three distinct parts, only the walled lower town, which clings to the bottom of the rock, facing out to sea, remains standing and occupied, with the hilltop town and 16th century Venetian fortress in ruins up above.

We arrived as the crowds did, thronging through the tunnel gate and into the honey coloured warren of narrow cobbled streets where few cars could get, even if they were allowed. 

Even the modern building work uses horses as dumper trucks! 

The town is very quaint, full of cafes and restaurants and a liberal sprinkling of all the usual tat shops 

and lots of pretty nooks and corners

and we found the main square

and church thronging with a steady stream of wizened old ladies all dressed in their 'uniform' of black top, black kneelength skirt, black tights and sensible black slip on shoes,who were seemingly coming into church to light a candle, kiss the various saints pictures and generally catch up on the gossip.

Fortunately by now, most of the tourists had packed themselves into the restaurants for lunch so we were left alone where only mad dogs and englishmen (and the occasional  mountain goat-like german) dare to tread - the zigzag path to the top in the heat of the midday sun.

The view from the top was stunning, up and down the coast and across the narrow bridge to the mainland village.

There is virtually nothing left of the old upper town - only overgrown tumbledown ruins of buildings purporting to be churches of various flavours, turkish bathhouses or other miscellaneous dwellings - except a rather fine byzantine church which appears to have been a church, a mosque, a church, a mosque and a church again during the course of its long history and the various turkish and other invasions.

We scrambled right the way to the top and the fortress,

then back down for beautiful views of the lower town and onwards and outwards and bridgewards.

After a distributor fettling stop  (adding a second set of points for reasons I will go into elsewhere) in the mainland village, we headed on and round again eventually arriving at the small port of Gythio just as the sun was setting and in possession of enough readings to make a scatter graph of rpm against airflow for both wide open throttle (WOT) and fully closed throttle (FCT) which may or may not be useful as a means of setting the boundaries of the various maps which will be needed (remembering that for the same engine speed or airflow reading we are rich at WOT and lean at FCT or even partially closed throttle, probably due to an airleak... Just making sure you're keeping up... ;)

Gythio is nice and a bit more 'real' as we wandered into town along the harbour wall.  From the number of small boats lined up in the harbour it is clearly an operational fishing village still, although as one of the three Peloponnese ferry terminals with boats bound for the Crete, there is still a large transient population and every second house is a hotel or has rooms to let. 

We were vaguely looking at taverna menus and deciding how hungry we were - and beginning to regret not eating in Pachi which, on saturday night had been thronging with dining locals in the delicious smelling restaurants - when we stopped out side what we thought was a hole-in-the-wall gyros place (gyros definitely being on my things-we-have-to-do-in-greece list) when a sprightly looking old lady started gesticulating wildly at us through the window of what turned out to be the ajoining dining-in area, with various thumbs up and 'yum-yum' hand movements.  We heaed back towards the door to look for a  menu and were welcomed in by the smiling, rotund owner and so the die was cast, even before we got as far as the gesticulating german who was intent on telling us how good the food was (which it most certainly was), what good value it was (again, most definitely) and how it was recommended in her Trotters guidebook as being both those things (for which we will have to take her word).

So souvlaki (lamb cubes on skewers), pork gyros (like donner kebab), pita breads, salad and tatsiki were ourswashed down with delicious ice cold mythos - nom.  And so much stuff that we had enough to take home in a foil box for dinner the next day.  Brilliant.

So a wander back down the well lit harbour and a short drive out of town to a quiet beach side layby.

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside!

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