A Moody Máni…. .

And so to the Máni, finger number three, of our clockwise tour of the Peloponnese.  It was in bright sunshine that we said a sad farewell to the colourful little town of Gytheio heading for the southern most point of the Peloponnese.  It would take us a few days to get there as we were, once again, in need of a washing machine.  After a long drive of 4.9km we pitched up at Mani camping for the night to get everything turned around as it would be our last chance to find an open campsite until we reached Kalamata which was several days away.  Washing done, waste tanks emptied, water tanks brimming and campsite cats fed we commenced our meander down the Máni.

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The view from the beach near Kotronas.
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The Maniots must have been quite short as we saw many tiny chapels like this one.
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The church in Kotronas.
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Curious sheep.

Dominated by the Tygetos mountain range it is wild and rugged, quite different to anywhere else we have been to in Greece.  The fiercely independent Maniots have left their indelible mark on the landscape.  Villages made up of distinct tower houses and byzantine churches clinging to the hillsides blend in with the landscape.

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A beautiful day on the Mani peninsular.
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Villages blending in to the hillsides.
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A closer view.
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This has to be the cutest little chapel I’ve ever seen.

The area’s population of over 30 000 in the early 19th Century had slowly dwindled to less than 5000 by the early 1990’s.  We made our way down the eastern side of the peninsular taking it all in.  Having read and heard that the roads were particularly narrow we were quite relieved to see that, other than a few tight spots through the odd village, the roads were pretty good.  It also helped that we only passed a handful of cars coming in the other direction.

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Squeezing through Kotronas village.

On our second day we parked up in a large layby six kilometres from the end of the peninsular preferring to walk to the end rather than drive all the way to the tiny hamlet of Kokkinogia as the road did seem to get a tad narrow at that point.  Also the exercise would do us good.

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View towards Cape Matapan, the southern most point in Greece.
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Our parking spot.
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Looking towards the hamlet of Marmari, all closed up for the winter.

We got out of the van making ready for our assault on the southern most tip of the Peloponnese to a strong smell that I can only describe as smelling like cannabis.  Mmm.  Weird. The smell followed us all the way to the village.  Either the Maniot inhabitants have found a more lucrative way to make money or there is another plant that smells similar growing in the area.  We never did get to the bottom of it and with nobody about to ask it will remain a mystery.

The weather started to get a bit blustery but we made it down to the lighthouse for a spot of lunch without the weather closing in on us.

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Looking back to Kokkinogia the final village before you fall off the end.
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Cape Matapan lighthouse.
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A lunch stop with stone table and chairs provided free of charge.

Once back at the van, though, the weather did get more menacing.  Squally showers came and went in waves.

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The calm before the storm!

We went to bed that night being buffeted by gusts of wind on our very picturesque but exposed spot on the cliffs above the beach.  It was a loooonnnng looooonnng night.  I’d spent most of it thinking we were doomed.  The wind was snatching at the roof vents, which Tim had secured a few days previously with a Wallace and Gromitesque series of suction hooks and rubber bands.  They were doing a fine job.  If they hadn’t been there I think we’d have probably had three gaping holes in the roof by the morning.  It was reminiscent of a very windy night we’d had in Tarifa in Spain the previous winter but without the luxury of a town to hunker down in a couple of miles away.  Tim did even confess to having had a disturbed night and to thinking, at one point, that we had actually taken off.  My mild hysteria, then, wasn’t completely unfounded.

We had planned on staying another night to do another walk but thought it prudent to ‘get the hell out of there’ before we did, in fact, blow away.  We slowly pulled away from our parking spot heading back up the steep winding road praying that all four wheels remained in contact with the tarmac.  We took refuge in the pretty little port village of Gerolimenas to sit out the weather.  Over several hours, torrential rain came and went until the storm finally blew itself out.  Phew.  When the Máni’s in a mood it’s not a particularly hospitable place to be.

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See, it’s not always sunny.
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Geromilenas after the storm.
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Another petite chapel in Geromilenas.
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A walk to the next village of Ochia.
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Agios Nikolaos church in Ochia and our two companions who’d walked with us from Gerilomenas.

Further north we parked up and pottered around Areópoli, the main town on the western side of the peninsular.

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Areopoli.
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The back streets of Areopoli.

A pretty little place it is too where a footpath from the bottom of the town took us round to the next bay.

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The next bay around where you’ll find Pyrgos Dirou cave system, one of the largest and most colourful in Greece.
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The walk back.
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Wild flowers lined the way.

We’d parked in the large carpark just outside the village next to the school and bus station.  We spent the evening in the adjacent cafe watching the Six Nations Rugby on the laptop whilst troughing pizza, chips, beer and half a kilo of Rosé.  The locals were probably a bit bemused by us eating and drinking glued to the laptop with our headphones on and not exchanging a word.  Who says romance is dead!

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A quick pitstop in……..one of the towns along the way………can’t recall the name.
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The bay above the little village of Limeni.
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Looking across to Aghios Dimitrios.
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Sunset on a craggy coastline.

Our six night Máni meander, then, came to an end as we reached the Lidl on the outskirts of Kalamata.  As always, coming back to civilisation is a two edged sword.  We quite like to see more people again but instantly miss the solitude of rolling hills and wilder places.  The marina at Kalamata provides a handy stopover to do all the necessaries for another week of wandering.  Kalamata itself, as far as we made out, didn’t have much to recommend it except for a stroll through the ‘Railway Park’.

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Kalamata Railway Park.

DSC05330.JPGWe just stayed the one night and made ready to head off to Koróni but not without first speaking to our English neighbours, Jay and Fi, who had arrived late afternoon the previous day.  They turned out to be an interesting travelling troubadour couple from Edinburgh who seem to have sussed out the ‘work, life, balance’ conundrum.  Work for six months, travel for six months.  They had a big bouncing fluffy white puppy with them who we suspected hadn’t come with them from Scotland.  Said puppy was one lucky girl.  They’d spotted her foraging amongst rubbish on the outskirts of Olympia, gained her trust and taken her in.  You can read about her on their Website.

So I’ll end on that happy story:)

μέχρι την επόμενη φορά!

Gýtheio……in pictures…. .

Today is going to be a short photo post dedicated to Gýtheio, a lively little port town, and gateway to the Máni peninsular.

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It’s said to be one of the most attractive towns in the southern Peloponnese.  I wouldn’t disagree.

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The pastel coloured 19th Century buildings lining the waterfront are very elegant.

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The drying octopus tentacles………..aren’t.

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But let me take you behind the scenes through the labyrinth of alleyways lining the hillside behind the seafront.

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Derelict manor houses nodding to former wealth.

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Will they ever be restored?

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Crumbling houses further up the hillside.

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The old and the new side by side.

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Pretty painted steps.

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Colour co-ordinated balconies.

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The odd building plot.

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Washing drying in the sunshine.

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More steps.

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A lovely terrace filled with plants.

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Driving along the narrow causeway from our overnight parking spot on the small island of Kranai.  Onwards then to the Máni peninsular.

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I said it would be short!

Τα λέμε!

Marvellous Monemvasiá…. .

So, our pootle around the Peloponnese continues.  We left Plaka in glorious sunshine heading up through the Dafnon Gorge towards the mountain village of Kosmos deep in the Parnon mountains.  Oh, what a drive.  The first twenty kilometres of it featured in my last blog post as I’d already cycled up through the gorge to the Panagia Elona monastery from Plaka.

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Goat works again through the Dafnon Gorge!

Continuing on from the monastery the road zig zags its way up and up another ten or so kilometres before levelling out reaching a plateau where we were confronted with SNOW.  Eek.  We’re not good with snow.  Oh, we don’t mind being out in it on foot but we HATE driving in it.  I mean, there wasn’t much but it was still SNOW!

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Snow after the climb up.

By the time we got to Kosmos, which is 1150 metres above sea level, we felt very fortunate that the recent scorching weather we’d been having had at least melted most of it.  Now, we would have liked to stop in Kosmos as it looked to be a delightful mountain village but what with the narrow, winding roads and SNOW to negotiate we pressed on through the village and out the other side keen to get down to a more reasonable altitude!  We were relieved to get back down to sea level and the more familiar territory of Lidl just outside Skala.

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More snow on the way down.

Our destination for the day was Monemvasiá, nicknamed the ‘Gibraltar of Greece’ (but without the Marks and Spencer or the Morrisons).  Separated from the mainland by an earthquake in AD375, Monemvasiá remained an island until a causeway was built in the 6th Century BC.  The name derives from two Greek words, mone and emvassi, meaning ‘single entrance’.  Parked up on the harbour at Gefyra on the mainland it does indeed have a Gibraltar look about it, albeit on a much smaller scale and with the odd fishing boat tootling past instead of a Ryan Air Boeing 737.

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Ollie parked up at the Harbour in Gefyra overlooking Monemvasia.

Looking out from the harbour it looks, well, like a big lump of rock with nothing much to see but a few ruins on the top.  Ah but, a whole fortified town built on two levels does a good job of hiding itself from the mainland.  Across the causeway and a kilometre or so further on, enclosed within 16th Century walls, the lower town has all but been completely restored.

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The Western entrance gate to Monemvasia.

Settled in the 6th Century by inhabitants of ancient Laconia seeking refuge from Slavic invaders, Monemvasiá changed hands back and forth between the Venetians and the Turks over several centuries before being finally liberated during the Greek War of Independence early in the 19th Century.  Its strategic position on the main maritime routes of the Mediterranean made it an important commercial maritime centre.  Alas, the completion of the Corinth Canal in 1893 put the kibosh on Monemvasiá’s favourable position as maritime traffic dramatically reduced and the town went into decline.  Increasing numbers of tourists arriving during the 1970’s brought about a resurrection, though, and slowly slowly the town began a new chapter in its life.

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The town has been beautifully restored.

Practically the whole town has now been restored with many of the houses having been converted into hotels, guest houses, restaurants and little shops.  As soon as we were through the Western gate we were reminded of  a petite Le Mont St. Michel.  Cafe’s, restaurants and boutique shops line the main cobbled street.

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Just beyond the entrance to the town – reminded us of Mont St. Michel.
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Some of the little shops were closed up for the winter.

We had the luxury of wandering around the lower town for a couple of hours with only the odd builder working on a property for company.   It was absolutely fascinating to meander up, down and around the lower town having a nosey into some of the properties and several of the forty or so churches.  We loved it.

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The lower town.
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One of the houses in the process of being restored.

Climbing up to the upper town, which is largely still in ruins, gives a fantastic birds eye view of the rooftops of the lower town spreading out down to the sea.

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View above the lower town.
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Panoramic view of the lower town.

 

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Looking back through the gateway to the upper town.
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Restored church close to the gate of the upper town.

We combed the upper town on our second foray onto the island, which again, we had practically to ourselves.  Agia Sophia, the 13th Century church perched on the summit of the rock, is the only part of the upper town that has been fully restored.

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13th Century Agia Sophia teetering on the cliff edge of the upper town.
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Agia Sophia taken from a footpath at the bottom of the cliff around the corner from the lighthouse.
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Remains of one of the many water cisterns on the island for storing water in times of siege.

The rest is pretty much left to your imagination and we were free to wander around all the ruins.

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Looking back to Gefyra on the mainland.
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A quadrilateral, vaulted roofed funeral monument probably from the first period of Turkish rule (1540-1690).
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A narrow, steep, rocky path led to this tiny cave chapel.
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Coming out of the cave chapel.

All in all, then, Monemvasiá gets a big thumbs up from us and we’d certainly recommend a visit, preferably out of season, as I imagine it would be too hot and heaving with people in the summer.

After a couple of nights spent on the harbour at Gefyra we drove the eighteen or so kilometres north to the charming little fishing port of Gerakas.  Ahh, what a cute little place it is too.  Its set on an inlet sheltered from the open sea, flanked by mountains with one way in and one way out.

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Gerakas Port.

We were able to park up just short of the port in a large layby complete with benches overlooking the shallow waters of the bay where we spent a bit of time watching a few egrets and some little grebe type birds go about their business.  We walked up to the ruins of an acropolis above the town which gave us great views back across the bay.

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Looking back over the inlet from the acropolis at the top of the hill above Gerakas Port.

Not content with just the one walk we ventured out to the next village, also called Gerakas, via road and footpath.

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Spring has arrived in Greece 🙂

Such a sleepy little place with a ramshackle hotch potch of dwellings, some lived in, some not.

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Gerakas village, four kilometres from the port.

After a peaceful night it was time to head to Gytheio, the gateway to the Mani Peninsular, and the third ‘finger’ of our clockwise tour of the Peloponnese.

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Onwards to Gytheio.

Αποχαιρετισμός!

 

 

 

 

Biking and hiking on the Peloponnese…. .

After enjoying an extended ten day stop at ancient Corinth where we spent the time chatting to neighbours, cleaning the van inside and out, chatting to neighbours, on line learning, chatting to neighbours, a few bike rides, chatting to neighbours and walking up to Acrocorinth and back several times we hit the road again heading back to Nafplio.

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Barbecue night at the Camperstop in ancient Corinth.
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British, Dutch, French, German, Austrian and Greek campers. 

The main reason we had decided to go back to the Camperstop, apart from a bit of a recharge, regroup and a relax, was that Tim was waiting for a parcel to be delivered to the Post Office in Nafplio.   Back in Nafplio, we waited.  And waited.  And waited.  We weren’t idle whilst waiting as we always find plenty to do.

 

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We weren’t idle whilst hanging about in Nafplio.
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Of course we found the time to go for an Ouzo tasting night with Sue and Mick  who were our neighbours for a couple of nights.
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Agios Nikolaos, a little church built into the cliffs and accessed via a coastal footpath from the carpark at the end of Karathona beach.

 

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The lovely young dog and numerous cats that lived near the church at the end of Karathona beach.  Various people come to feed them.

The tracking history for the parcel showed it was getting closer and closer but not close enough.  It spent three days in Argos which, on closer inspection of the map, we realised was only ten kilometres away.  Long story short, after several emails and phone calls we arranged to pick it up in Argos.  We arrived in Argos and parked up on a busy street outside the town.  Tim went off in search of the delivery depot whilst I stayed in the van in case I had to move it.  He relayed to me later that, unable to find the place, he asked at a local garage for some directions.  After the owners daughter had done her best to translate the directions Tim obviously must have still looked puzzled as the owner called over one of his young employees and said ‘he take you’.  Oh, how I wish I’d seen Tim’s face when the young lad nodded to him to clamber onto the back of his moped.  Now, for those of you who know Tim you will know that he is Mr Health and Safety personified.  He won’t even use an electric toothbrush without risk assessing it first.  He just does not do any kind of motorised two wheel transport.  I had a moped for over ten years to zip back and forth to work on and he never once got on it.  So there he was careening round the streets of Argos in a pair of shorts not wearing a crash helmet on a genetically modified moped driven by a multi tasking teenager who had one eye on the road and the other on his mobile phone.  All I can say is he badly wanted that parcel.  You never know, if you get to the end of this blog post I might even tell you what it was.

In all it took two weeks from order to delivery (or not quite delivery).  Curiously, the ACSI card my mum kindly sent to the Nafplio Post Office arrived in a few days.  Finally, then, we left Nafplio for good taking the coast road on the next ‘finger’ of the Peloponnese.  Under a cloudless sky we chugged up and down the coastal road giving us glimpses of little fishing coves all set against a back drop of the Parnon mountain range.

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A walk and a lunch stop at Astros.
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Views of the Parnon mountain range.
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One of several picnic laybys on the coastal road to Leonidio.

We arrived in Leonidio and immediately loved it.  The town nestles in the shadow of a huge red rock at the end of the Dafnon Gorge and the area is popular with sports climbers who have a choice of over a thousand different routes.  It truly is a very beautiful area and we have been waylaid here for the past five days.

 

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Leonidio – you can just see the van to the left of the picture.
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Tim had the choice to walk or cycle up the hill above Leonidio to the top of the rock.  He chose to walk – opting out was not an option!
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The views from the top. 
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The main road through Leonidio.

It has to be the cleanest town we have been to in Greece.  I haven’t mentioned it before on the blog but we’ve been really saddened to see a huge amount of rubbish, particularly plastic and building rubble, strewn all over Greece.  I’m not having a go at Greece as every country has its fair share of waste issues but we’ve found it particularly prevalent here. There are plenty of large industrial type bins around but many have no lids, are over flowing or just aren’t emptied or used.  Here in Leonidio, though, they seem to be taking a real interest in keeping their town and environment clean and recycling what they can.  I hope that this rolls out to the rest of Greece and sooner rather than later.

 

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Recycling in Leonidio.

We could spend a couple of weeks here just exploring by foot or by bike. We spent a couple of nights parked up on the edge of the town but on Monday morning we were woken up at 6.30am to find ourselves surrounded by the local fruit and veg market.  Ooops.  They were very kind and had left us a gap to get out so we decamped and drove down the valley to the harbour at Plaka four kilometres away to have some breakfast.   We found out that the campsite behind the beach is open so we’ve decided to base ourselves here and stay for a few days.

 

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The harbour at Plaka.
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Working out in Plaka!

I’ve been out on the bike whilst Tim has been fettling his new toy.

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Out on the bike.  Views back down to the village of  Poulithra.
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A dusting of snow and ice on the road near the top of the climb.  
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Back down the mountain towards Plaka.

Obviously with the mountains it’s extremely hilly but the effort is so worth it as the scenery is absolutely magnificent.

 

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Spectacular views and quiet roads make for a perfect afternoons cycle.

Sixteen kilometres north of Leonidio, the Monastery of Panagia Elona, built into a cleft in the rock six hundred and fifty metres above the river bed is quite a sight even after experiencing Metéora last year.

 

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You can just see the Panagia Elona monastery clinging to the hillside.
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Close up view.

It must be quite a popular pilgrimage site as stalls are set up outside the gate selling local produce like honey and olives. I was the only visitor and was greeted by a monk who showed me around the little chapel.

 

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Inside the monastery with the little chapel at the end.

Anyway, enough of that let’s get back to Tim’s new toy.   Since embarking on our trip around Europe Tim hasn’t had the opportunity to play his clarinet or saxophone as much as he would have liked and he has missed playing in a band.  In a bid to kill two birds with one stone he has decided that he is going to take up the life of a ‘street entertainer extraordinaire’ (aka ‘a busker’).  In order to do that he needed some amplification.  And that is what was in the parcel we were waiting for, a battery powered amp.  He had his inaugural gig yesterday on the harbour front and was invited over to the taverna to knock out a few tunes on their sun terrace.

 

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It beats the draughty streets of  Bath.

Today he whiled away another hour or so playing on the harbour and was thanked by the lady in the shop who said she enjoyed the music.  All in all, it’s a win-win then.  Tim gets to play and people enjoy it. You never know it could become a good side hustle to keep him in beer money.

 

Before I go I must tell you about the campsite cats.  When we arrived we were greeted by a few cats that were sniffing about.  Obviously being such a soft touch I brought out a bag of food I have (it’s actually dog food for the numerous needy stray dogs we see) but before the food hit the floor another ten cats appeared.  I fed them again this morning and we are now prisoners in our van.  We are completely surrounded.  Most of the cats in Greece are pretty aloof but these ones know how to manipulate.  They have taken to lounging on our chairs, table and bike rack and try to get in the van at every opportunity.  Cooking outside is a nightmare and you can’t go to the washing up area without at least two kittens hanging off your trouser legs.

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Oh yes, just sit where you like we’ll just stand!
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It’s just as well the barbecue has a lid.

I don’t think our neighbours are too happy with me encouraging them as they keep spraying them with water to keep them away from their van.  I thought I was going to have to go out tonight after dark to feed them but another van has just turned up and the first thing the lady did even before getting their van into position was feed the cats.  Phew, that’s good, the heats off me now.  Oh, how we’ll laugh as they become prisoners in their van tomorrow!

 

Αντίο!

 

 

Reflections on twenty one and a bit months on the road…. .

We are over twenty one months into our life changing decision to give up our jobs, rent out our house and travel around Europe in our motorhome.  It may seem a bit odd to be writing a blog post about our reflections at this stage in our journey as twenty one months isn’t one of those milestone figures.  Six months, twelve months, eighteen months, two years, five years, yes.  Twenty one months, well, no.  The truth is that I had planned to do updates every six months or so but I simply didn’t get around to it.  Better late than never as they say.  So, I thought I’d give you those reflections today.  Just because.

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Our journey so far (except Ireland and Holland which we visited before this trip).

Twenty one and a bit months is a long time and yet it seems that it has passed by in no time at all.  Time seems to speed up as we get older making me realise that we only have just the one chance at life.  Over the last few years during what I like to call as my ‘mid life crisis phase’ I’ve read several books on such things as mindfulness, simplicity, happiness and the like.  My twenty or even thirty something self would have scoffed at such a reading choice but as I’ve got older and (hopefully) wiser it’s dawned on me that life is short and we need to try to make the most of it.  I read Gretchin Rubin’s book ‘The Happiness Project’ late last year (downloaded from the library when I wasn’t even in the UK…just another bonus of living in the digital age) and a quote that she uses over and over ad nauseum, but which is so true is  ‘The days are long, but the years are short’.  Life passes you by if you let it.  We are trying to not let that happen.

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We haven’t quite reached Hollywood yet………….but you never know.

Living in and travelling in a small space no bigger than a single garage with one’s spouse would maybe seem like hell on wheels to some but we muddle along just fine.  We’ve had a lot of time to perfect our routines now and can go through them practically blindfolded without getting in each others way.  It also helps that we are both a bit slimmer now and find it somewhat easier to squeeze through small gaps!  In terms of the stuff we carry in the van I think we’ve probably got it about right now after our final purge of clothes, shoes and bits and bobs almost a year ago.  Everything has its own place and can be got at without too much rummaging.  On the who does what front I have my jobs and Tim has his.  It’s best to keep it that way.  When we don’t stick to our allotted tasks the outcome is never a good one.  Twice recently we have driven off leaving the water cap behind after I have replenished the van with fresh water.  It’s not normally my job so how can I be expected to remember something difficult like that?  Equally, I’ve learnt that watching Tim struggle to change the duvet cover is really not good for my mental health.  Repressing the urge to snatch it off him saying ‘oh just give it to me’ is just too much.  Getting into bed with the innards of the duvet scrunched up and doubled over and not reaching each corner of the cover can make me feel a bit, well, murderous.  Therefore, even though our jobs are a bit genderist (is that a word?) we know what we are good at and we generally stick to that.

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Things don’t always go to plan – getting stuck on our first Helpx in the UK.

We’ve truly settled in now to a life on the road and enjoy the freedom of having no rigid plans.  Occasionally we think it might be nice to be back in a house with more room to stretch out a bit, be a part of a community and see friends and family more but the financial benefits of renting our house out far outweigh those feelings at the moment.  Maybe in time we’ll feel differently but we’ve no plans, as yet, to return to a more conventional life.

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Getting to grips with mountain passes.

When we left the UK again to start our second year of travels I did feel a bit overwhelmed and unsettled for a while.  For our second year we’d planned to travel further and all the countries were new to us.  I just didn’t know where to start in planning a route.  After struggling for several weeks to get to grips with it all I decided to change my mindset.  I told myself to just deal with where we’d go the following day and leave it at that.  That change of mindset has definitely made a big difference.  It’s got us as far as Greece anyway. My little brain can’t cope with too much information at once so I try not to over stress it!

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It wasn’t so bad planning a route across Luxembourg!

The minor niggles we’ve had with the van such as the recent demise of our water pump have been just that, minor niggles which, although inconvenient, aren’t enough to send us into a downward spiral of ‘woe is me’.  Tim, if he’s honest, has quite enjoyed flexing his practical skills from time to time and has felt satisfied at tackling repair jobs that we would have previously left to a garage to sort out.  Fortunately we haven’t had anything fail that has needed us to leave the van with a repairer for more than one day thus we haven’t, as yet, faced the dilemma of ‘where do we live’ whilst it’s sorted out.  Oh we know that will happen at some point but we’ll no doubt find a solution if we need to.  We have, though, spent more in repairs in the last two years than I think we had in the first six years that we owned the van. Living in it all the time does take its toll and it has come as no surprise to us that certain things are at about their life span and will fail at some point.  Modern appliances and gadgets just aren’t made to last in this day and age.  The one thing that has been fine has been the fridge which seems to be the bane of the motorhomers life if speaking to other people is anything to go by.  Of course the fridge will be on death row tomorrow after having now written that.

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Resealing the kitchen window near Thessaloniki, Greece.  Tim didn’t tackle this one but may take it on next time it happens.

Nothing much has changed on the internet side of things.  At the six month stage in our travels we’d (that’ll be me) just about learned to live without unlimited internet access………..and I’m still learning.  We still generally try to find wifi when we can but we have relaxed a bit on using our mifi in the van and now that we are able to buy data cards loaded with up to 12G of data that are valid for twelve months it has made life a bit easier.  I still update the blog using wifi as my pictures take up so much data (I am compressing them now via Google, which also takes up lots of data, as they were taking up way too much space on the blog too).  In terms of getting a signal on our mifi the only times it has let us down has been when we really needed it!  Like when I hadn’t written down the address of a Helpx we were going to and on the morning we were due to arrive there we had no signal so weren’t able to look it up and ended up driving around for an hour or so trying to get a signal.  Something we could have done without but if I’d been a little more organised and written it down in advance it wouldn’t have been a problem.  Note to self: the internet is an excellent tool but don’t completely rely on it.

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Too much time spent glued to a screen and you miss days like these.

We’ve done seven weeks on two different Helpx’s this year, both in Germany – one a Dairy Farm and the other an Alpaca Farm.  The two experiences were very different and we enjoyed them both.  Having the opportunity to learn about and work with different people and animals has been one of the highlights of our travels.  It’s fair to say though that volunteering in this way doesn’t come without some frustrations.  The two Helpx’s we did this year we found a little trying at times mainly because we didn’t have the autonomy we would have liked and the number of hours we worked did push the boundaries of the ethos of what Helpx is all about.  Every opportunity we have done has been different though and it hasn’t put us off doing some more in the future but we’ll just try to be a little clearer with our hosts about expected working hours when we apply.

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A wonderful experience to wake up to a new born Alpaca on our seventh Helpx.

One thing I haven’t mentioned on the blog so far is whether either of us has missed conventional work.  The answer to that question for both of us would be ‘NO’.  Tim has settled into this early retirement thing with aplomb and doesn’t miss his previous job and doesn’t think about it at all.  In his words ‘not one bit’.  I haven’t missed working for an employer at all but do sometimes think about what my purpose in life is and feel a little guilty about bumming around Europe with no set plans.  I’ve learnt to deal with it though!  We are never bored and it never ceases to astonish us that time just seems to vanish when living a life on the move.  We try to get into a good routine balancing our time between reading, our own projects, exercise, sightseeing and general everyday stuff like laundry, shopping and driving.  When on an extended tour like this sightseeing everyday quickly becomes a going through the motions affair and isn’t sustainable.  Less is more as they say.

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Oh yes, Tim’s settled into pensioner life like a pro!

I do find it a constant battle trying to live in the moment and try to stop myself thinking too far into the future.  I’ve said it before that the truth is we just don’t know what our future is going to look like and I’ve found that constantly thinking about it detracts from what we are doing in the here and now.  But it’s a hard habit to break as that has been my default thought process for such a long time.  I mean, all we need to do really is check in with each other every so often on whether we are still content to continue this vagabond life and whether either of us has had some revelation about what they want in the future.  Surely that can’t be too hard?  We are fortunate and grateful that we do have choices though.  I really need to get over myself, lighten up and enjoy the present moment more.  It’s a work in progress!  Tim doesn’t seem to have any problems living in the present which is probably why he is a happy bunny 99.9% of the time.

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Tim in contemplative mood.

The other thing that has changed since the last time I reflected on our travels is that we no longer have our stuff stored in a container.  When we left on our journey in April 2016 we’d held onto a large part of our possessions.  Even though in the run up to our departure we’d purged more than half of them we still had a container full of stuff.  On returning to the UK in April 2017 we made the decision to give it all away to a charity so we no longer had the associated costs of storing it all.  It wasn’t the easiest decision we’ve made and I did spend time afterwards wondering if we’d made the right decision.  For a time, I felt like the security rug had been whipped out from under me.  I felt, oh I don’t know, like I’d lost my connection to a home if that makes any sense.  That feeling has worn off and I feel differently about it now.  We have a clean slate without the mental drag of our stuff getting in the way of what decisions we make in the future.  If we decide to move back into a house then we are completely free to start afresh.  If we don’t then we no longer have to think about our stuff.  One thing is for sure though we definitely won’t be accumulating as much stuff again.

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The ‘stuff’ has gone.

Part of our decision to do this trip now, instead of waiting until we got to a traditional retirement age, was that we both still have the physical capacity to do the things we enjoy like walking and cycling.  And that is something that will change as we get older.  Another ten years sat behind a desk wasn’t going to improve our physical abilities.  After nearly two years away from an office environment we feel that way more than ever.  We are far more content, far more active and far more in control of our own destination (pun intended).  Obviously living this kind of lifestyle isn’t all hunky dory all of the time but then neither is life no matter what your status, financial position, family situation etc etc.  Things will go wrong or not quite as expected and acknowledging that makes it easier to deal with when it does happen.

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‘Le bump’ we had in France three months into our trip.  After having it repaired we’ve since damaged it again when parking up on a campsite!  Hey ho, c’est la vie.

To wrap up this rather rambling blog post then our travels so far have exceeded our expectations and we are thankful that we have had the opportunity to take the plunge to try a different kind of life at this stage in our lives.

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Sign at the campsite in Split, Croatia.
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Cheers!

For now, then, the journey continues:)

So long!

Running repairs…. .

It’s official.  We are having a duvet day today.  We’ve returned to the Camperstop at ancient Corinth for a regroup, a recharge and a relax.  Sometimes it makes a nice change to go back to a familiar place for a short while, with all the services on hand, to chill out and give our eyeballs and brains a rest from all things new.  It’s a bit like going in for a spell of respite care.

We can have a break from the everyday questions like what are we going to do today, where are we going to park up, do we need water, where can we empty our waste, do you think that water will be safe to drink, have we got enough power in the batteries and so on.  Here, back at the Camperstop, we’ve already explored the area and we can, if we so choose, do nothing at all.  Rien, nada, naff all.  And, as it is a grey and wet day today, that is exactly what we are choosing to do. Tim can relax secure in the knowledge that he is not going to be confronted with the ‘so, what do you want to do today question’ which generally invokes a ‘rabbit in the headlights’ look.  He’s had a busy week and is in need of some R and R.

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Looking out at a wet, grey day at the Camperstop at ancient Corinth.

As I mentioned in my last post our water pump ceased pumping and we were waiting for a new one to be delivered.  It duly arrived on time and Tim laid out all his tools on the harbour front ready to fit it.

 

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Everything prepped ready for the new water pump.

All went without a hitch and voila, we had running water once again.  I pushed the boat out and luxuriated in a shower lasting at least thirty seconds longer than I normal and emerged feeling renewed, reborn and squeaky clean.  After five days of boiling the kettle for hot water and running back and forth to a tap on the harbour filling our three five litre fresh water bottles it was certainly a luxury to have running water again.

 

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The shiny new water pump in situ.

Now, we have also known for some time that we had a teeny tiny leak from somewhere in the shower cubicle.  After taking a shower, a few drops of water regularly appeared on the tarmac underneath the van directly under where the shower is.  Nothing serious, just something to keep an eye on.  Well, since the all singing all dancing shiny new water pump has been fitted it seems that the teeny tiny leak is no longer so teeny tiny.  A full blown puddle was now appearing under the van after either of us had taken a shower.  *roll eyes* C’est la vie.  If it’s not one thing it’s another.

 

After an investigation which involved taking part of the sink out to get an eyeball at all the pipe work Tim thought the leak was likely to be coming from a loose pipe connected to the shower tap.  To get to it, though, would mean taking out the plastic panel the tap is connected to.  After doing the repair it would then all need to be put back in and resealed.  Simples.  Before Tim could tackle it though we needed to be somewhere where we could easily get some parts.

Whilst deciding what to do next we had a visual lesson from a chap fishing on the harbourside on how to catch and kill an octopus.  I won’t furnish you with the gory details but suffice to say a hat pin was involved.  Being the squeamish type I felt pretty fortunate that I have only been presented with a few nails, a rusty pair of old pliers and several bottle tops from Tim’s  magnet fishing adventures.  In fact, I think I’d prefer a medley of rusty metal marinated in WD40, served on a bed of discarded fishing net, with a side order of nuts, bolts and bottle tops to a dinner full of tentacles.  Octopus….Squid…..I just don’t get the appeal.  Anyway, each to their own.

We decided that Náfplio would be the most likely place not too far away that we’d be able to get all the bits that were needed for the leaky shower tap.  Whilst on the way there we’d be able to swing in and visit the Sanctuary of Epidaurus.  Arriving late afternoon we’d intended to stay overnight in the large carpark in order to visit the site early next morning before it got busy.  The resident dozen or so dogs, though, thought otherwise.  After two hours of constant barking and carrying on we concluded that they were none too happy with us being on their territory and if we, or they, were to get any sleep we needed to decamp and park a few kilometres away and return in the morning.  Which we did.

Oh, they were like different dogs in the morning.  All smiles they couldn’t have been more welcoming with one accompanying us on our whole tour of the site.  As probably most people do, we made our way straight to the theatre to test out the acoustics to see if they really were near-perfect.

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Epidaurus Theatre.

The sound certainly does bounce back at you when standing in the middle of the stage and I still marvel at the design and engineering of these ancient sites built over two thousand years ago.

 

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It’s huge.
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Theatrical performances are still put on throughout July and August.
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Tim in one of the VIP seats.

What we really needed was for our French playing neighbour that we’d met in Ermioni to test the acoustics with his didgeridoo.  He could have didgeridone a virtuoso performance.

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The 5th BC stadium used to host nude athletic games.  
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Part of the medical complex dedicated to Asclepios.

Back in Náfplio the tools were out again.  It’s just as well Tim is able to do these sorts of things otherwise we’d be in search of a motorhome or caravan repairer which are few and far between here in Greece.

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Before……..

After several trips back and forth to a hardware store where the very helpful assistant furnished us with all the necessary parts, even drilling a hole in a bit that needed drilling, the repair was complete and everything put back and resealed.

 

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……….and after 🙂

He’s a genius my husband is.  A genius!

 

We’ll find out later today if it has worked.

I have faith.

I’m sure it has.

I’ll let you know next week.

αντιο σας!

Tolo to Poros…. .

The start to 2018 has been a good one.  We tootled around the coast from Náfplio to Tolo on New Year’s Day in bright sunshine finding a great little spot to park up for the night where we were able to pick up some free wifi from the closed campsite nearby.

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Our parking spot just around the headland from Tolo.

Tolo town is set within a beautiful sheltered bay overlooking the islands of Koronisi, Romvi and Platia.  The sun was shining on all the fishing boats and the water in the bay was like a millpond.

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The view out from Tolo harbour.

I think it is the first place we have been to in Greece where the sand is fine and golden and even though there isn’t much of a beach, as the town is built practically on the water, it is a pleasant walk around the bay.  The town itself behind the seafront though isn’t anything to write home about and was mostly closed up for the winter bar a few tavernas and a bakery.

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Tolo seafront.

We felt very fortunate to be walking along the beach in the sunshine from our parking spot on 2nd January instead of joining others returning to work after the Christmas holiday period.

The roads on this peninsular are slow but generally not single track and with little traffic which keeps my stress levels down even though I’m not the one driving.  A beautiful drive inland was the shortest way over to an overnight spot at Salanti.  Up and up it went twisting and turning with sheer drop offs to one side to reach a peak at the tiny village of Kanapitsa before winding down and around back to where the oxygen was thicker.

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The beautiful countryside looking back from Kanapitsa.

Fortunately it was exceedingly quiet with us passing only two pick up trucks on the whole sixteen or so kilometre stretch before we reached a major road again.  I wished I’d been on the bike as the views were spectacular.

Salanti proved to be an excellent stopover and we stayed a couple of nights.  If it wasn’t for the huge abandoned hotel behind the beach it would be the perfect get away from it all location.

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Our parking spot at Salanti.
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We only saw goats, shepherds and fishermen.

We had a nose around the hotel which is now derelict but must have been quite some investment to build.

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The abandoned hotel at Salanti.

The swimming pool was of Olympic sized proportions, now home to rubble and plastic chairs, whilst the hotel had about nine floors.

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Inside the hotel.

It’s sad to see that such an investment has now gone to seed and I’m sure the local people are none too pleased with it.

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Nicely colour co-ordinated bee boxes in the grounds of the hotel.  I think someone must have found some left over paint from the painting of the swimming pool!

I suppose demolishing it costs money and then what would be done with all that rubble?

We walked around the coast to take a look at Franchthi Cave which was occupied from the Paleolithic period through to Neolithic times.  It was used by the same family from the neighbouring village of Fourni in the 20th Century to house their flocks of sheep and goats from October to May.

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Franchthi Cave..

Feeling like I needed some proper exercise I took the bike out on the road to the west of Salanti climbing up for views across the bay to Kilada then down the other side to several fisheries. A few lorries slowly negotiate the tortuous single track road from Salanti to the fisheries and I watched as a lorry and trailer gingerly drove over the many potholes lining the road.

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Views towards the fisheries west of Salanti.

It’s a one way in, one way out road so they have to do it all over again on the way back.

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I spotted the silhouette of this goat high up on the hill above me whilst I waited for a lorry to get past me up the hill.
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Views towards Salanti.

The following morning after moving around the coast to Porto Heli our water pump decided to die.  Tim hasn’t had the tools out for quite a while so this gave him the opportunity to have a tinker about and diagnose the problem.  After much rootling about in and under the van with me keeping out of it sitting on the sidelines the diagnosis is that the water pump is no more and we need a new one.  Until we can get a new one we have no running water and we can’t use the boiler for heating.  Meh, meh and double meh.  So, it’s back to boiling the kettle for hot water.  We had plenty of practice last year when the boiler died so it’s not the end of the world and fortunately it’s been really mild at night so I can’t say we are suffering.

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It’s a goat block!  Halfway up the hill leaving Salanti.
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Pretty boats at Kilada where we’d stopped for lunch on the way to Porto Heli.

We found a marine service centre in Ermioni who ordered us a new water pump which would take a few days to arrive.   As we were going to be in Ermioni for a couple of days I thought it was about time I braved another haircut.  After four months without one I was starting to look a bit like a yeti.  Whilst sitting in the chair a priest burst in holding a cross and a basil branch.  He flailed the basil branch around the room blessing all four corners before leaving.  It was the eve before epiphany and the priest was out and about blessing homes and businesses all around the village.  That was a first for me and an interesting experience.   It seemed to work too as I was very pleased with how the haircut turned out.  Maybe I should have asked him to bless the water pump too!

The following day we watched as hundreds of people gathered around the harbour facing two decorated boats on which a dozen or so young men were singing their hearts out.

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Epiphany celebrations in Ermioni.

Then followed a procession of priests, VIP’s and children for the big sanctification of epiphany.

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The short service.

After the ceremony of much speaking and chanting the priest threw a golden cross into the water to bless it (the water not the cross).  The young men on the boats then dived into the water in a race to retrieve the cross.

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One lucky swimmer gets the cross.

The lucky winner is said to be blessed with good luck for the entire year.  We finished up the day with a didgeridoo lesson from our lovely French neighbours who had been parked next to us.  They’d been travelling for a couple of years with their two young children and were off later this year to do South America in their van.  Much more adventurous than us!

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Didgeridoo lessons from our French neighbours.

After a trip round the coast to Galatas and a ferry to have a mooch about Poros island we had a mixture of Mezes at the bustling taverna just a short walk from our parking spot. The rosé wine we had smelt like calor gas but at €2 for half a kilo (that’s what it said on the menu) we weren’t complaining! Nine eyes fixed their steely gaze on us from below the table (the little black one had just the one eye) forcing us to feed them.  They were welcome to the whitebait but also managed to make us part with some of the sausage, cheese and pork bits too.  What can I say, Greek cats are very persuasive!

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Poros town.
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Fishing nets in Poros.
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The maze of steep streets above Poros town.

Anyway it’s back to Ermioni today to see if the water pump has arrived and for Tim to get the tools out again to fit it.  If that doesn’t work then it’s on to plan B.  Whatever that may be.

Αντίο!