Feeling fatigued on our final days in France…. .

The last ten days have passed us by in a bit of a travel fatigued blur.  After leaving the Ardèche region we’ve just been making our way north towards Calais in a more or less straight line with little regard to any sightseeing on the way.  I couldn’t even really tell you what regions we have passed through or towns we have stayed the night at without consulting the map.  Mentally, in our heads, we have been two weeks ahead of ourselves.  My little brain has found it hard to focus on ‘seeing’ France when I’m thinking about our return to the UK to meet up with friends and family, scoff a full English breakfast and enjoy a cheap pint at a Wetherspoons pub!  Everything else has taken a back seat, including the blog.  My plans for France have, therefore, not gone according to plan.

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Le-Puy-en-Velay.

For the last week I haven’t even taken the camera with me on our excursions out.  It’s actually been rather nice not to have it welded to my side like an extra appendage.  The photos you are seeing were taken a week or more ago.  Fear not, though, the mood in ‘chez Ollie’ hasn’t been a glum one but a kind of ‘chomping at the bit I just want to get back to the UK and get on with things’ one.  We just need a bit of a ‘reset’ and some downtime with familiar people and familiar things to rejuvenate the travel mojo.

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Semur-en-Auxois.

Still, being in France for the last three weeks has given me the opportunity to come on in leaps and bounds with practising my French everyday with my constant chatter.  NOT!  Ah, I wish.  I had hoped to have a bit more confidence in shooting the breeze with any passing French person I encountered but my introvertedness has definitely got the better of me.  It has been an epic FAIL.  I shouldn’t have been surprised really as I’m socially inept at making small talk in my native language let alone in one I’m learning.  Sitting comfortably behind a laptop watching Youtube clips, listening to podcasts, reading the news and flicking through children’s stories isn’t quite the same as engaging in a halting conversation about the weather with a surly Frenchman in the van next door.  Oh, I’ve been able to converse in the shops to get what I want and quiz a lady at the Tourist Information Office on the whereabouts of the nearest ‘Laverie’ but I haven’t exactly been taxing myself. Instead Tim has had to endure me stopping at any random information board and reading it out loud just to get some practice at speaking French outside the four walls of the van.  I had mentioned to Tim that maybe if we were to have a dog again then it would serve as a lead in to getting a conversation started but it fell on deaf ears, he’s not buying it.

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Semur-en-Auxois.

So onto other news then.  Today is a big day in our calendar as it marks the second anniversary of our vagabond life.  Two years ago today we locked up our house, passed the keys over to our letting agent and drove off into the sunset never to look back………..or something like that.  Seven hundred and thirty days on the road.  It’s hard to believe really.  Where has the time gone?   Over the past two years we have:

  • Visited fourteen countries (UK, France, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Italy and Greece)
  • Driven fifteen thousand one hundred and forty two miles
  • Stayed two hundred and eighty eight nights on aires (some paid, some free)
  • Stayed one hundred and one nights on campsites
  • Wildcamped for one hundred and fifty two nights
  • Stayed three nights at Britstops
  • Endured three nights on ferries
  • Done one hundred and sixty seven nights with seven different Helpx hosts
  • Completed a sixteen night Housesit
  • Taken seven ferries and
  • Had one insurance claim for the bump we had in France in the first year.

All in all it’s been a roller coaster and quite the journey which, looking back, seems to have passed by in a flash.

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Man about town with his new trolley!

Looking forward now, what have we got coming up for season 3?  As ever, we don’t plan too far in advance but we do have a loose plan for at least the next four to five months or so.  We’ll be spending more time in the UK this year with perhaps up to six months on UK soil.  After three weeks or so of visiting friends and family and our annual dental and opticians appointments and the like we’ll be heading north for a tour of Scotland for around six weeks.   It was something we’d planned to do last year but we just never got around to it as other countries beckoned.  This year we WILL do Scotland as I’ve only ever been as far north as Berwick on Tweed.

Then we’ll travel the length of the country back down to Cornwall at the end of June to start a job.  Yes, you read that correctly, a J.O.B.  We’ve proved to ourselves that we aren’t quite unemployable just yet and we’ll be working on a campsite in July and August which will give us time to stop, stay still and focus on something other than travel for a short while.  We are really looking forward to it as it will be a complete change for us and nice to return to familiar territory as we know Cornwall well having spent many weekends and holidays touring there in the past.   At the end of our assignment, assuming we make it through to the end, we’ll temporarily part company with Ollie for a brief period and either visit the Isles of Scilly or spend a week or two walking a stretch of the South West coastal path that we haven’t yet done.

After that?

Who knows?

The road leads ever on……………

À toute à l’heure!

 

A finale in France…. .

Sitting in the queue waiting for the ferry to dock at Igoumenitsa we were sad to be leaving Greece but equally excited to be moving on to pastures new.  We’d decided that when we got to the other side at Ancona we would head straight across Italy making a beeline for the south of France to finish Season 2 of our European tour.  Italy will have to wait for another time.

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The view arriving at Ancona, Italy.
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The boat reverses in to the port.

It was a wise decision to splash the cash for the tolls on the motorways. The roads in Italy really aren’t great.  No, that’s being kind.  The roads in Italy are diabolical.  I know we have only seen a small part of Italy on our travels which isn’t really enough time to make an informed judgement but going by what we have experienced so far I think it’s a fair assessment.  The road surfaces are just crap.  Travelling at any reasonable speed would be pure folly.  If you wear dentures then it’s probably wise to leave them in their jar for the day.  It’s maybe not so bad in a car but in a motorhome it’s oh so tedious.  Constantly being shaken to bits, avoiding lumps, bumps, potholes and humps is just no fun.  It’s also no fun for the other motorists trailing along behind us as we crawl along at a reduced speed.  Even so, it still seemed like a long drive to get to France and it took us two days.

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Ah, the joys of being back on busy motorways in Italy.

We were, though, extremely happy to be back in France and both punched the air when going over the border despite the gloomy weather and heavy rain.  We exited the motorway just over the border into France and dropped down the steep winding hill to the wonderful, beautiful, picture postcard town of Menton.  Ah, what a marvellous looking place (even in the pouring rain) set at the foot of a steep hill on the French Riviera.  It was such a shame, then, that we never actually got to see it.

We parked at one of the marinas giving us a view back over the town.  I had a little gander at the parking metre and discovered that you were only allowed to park for a maximum of three and a half hours.  Undeterred we had lunch whilst contemplating our options.  It looked like there was an industrial estate outside the town where we might be able to park up for the night and then come back down to the town in the morning for a look see.  The rain might have stopped by then too.  There was also an Intermarché supermarket there and we needed provisions and diesel.  Tim never tires of cruising the aisles of large supermarkets even though they all seem to sell the same stuff so it would keep him entertained for several hours on a wet day.   Excellent.  Off we went back up the hill in search of a likely place to stay overnight.

We discovered that everything is very compact in Menton, including the Intermarché which has an underground car park with height barriers.  Tim was not to cruise the aisles that day.  The industrial estate was also extremely compact with only on street parking with not a metre of space to be had.  As we were alarmingly low on diesel we swung in to the Intermarché, went down an extremely steep ramp, grounded the tow bar on the tarmac at the bottom, looked at the layout designed for nothing bigger than a Smart car, sat blocking everyone’s way whilst deciding what to do, decided to exit the garage, at the exit changed our minds, swung in to the entrance again, went down the extremely steep ramp, grounded the tow bar on the tarmac once again (rolleyes), and took another go at it.  There wasn’t enough room for us to drive in, fill up, and then follow the one way system around two tight bends to get to the pay booth so I queued up in the rain behind the cars to pay what we owed whilst Tim kept dry in the van.  Obviously, being British I didn’t like to jump the queue.  We then had to reverse back from the pump to get out causing more chaos.

By this time we were a tad fed up with the traffic, the rain and seemingly no options to park up for the night.  We took another attack on the town to see if we could park further along the sea-front but with ‘NO MOTORHOMES’ signs everywhere we gave up, decided to get back onto the motorway, exit at the first services and decide what to do next.  By the time we got to the services we really couldn’t be bothered to move again so stayed the night.  It’s not something we’d normally do, in fact, I don’t think we’ve ever stayed at a motorway services overnight but it’s always nice to do something new for a change!  We slept pretty well considering that lorries were coming and going all night.  This is the reality of living the dream folks 🙂  Those sorts of days are few and far between though and the following morning we awoke to bright sunshine streaming through the skylights, the smell of diesel and lorry engines revving all around us.  I can’t think of a better way to start the day.

On the road again by seven o’clock and having decided that Menton and the French Riviera would be better visited with a car, we headed for the Ardèche Gorge.  The Ardèche is somewhere that we almost visited on a trip to France in 2014 but decided against it as we didn’t fancy spending four days of our two week holiday travelling there and back.  We stopped off on the way at a lovely little free aire complete with picnic benches just outside the village of Chusclan.

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The aire at Chusclan.

This is why we love France so much as so many villages provide facilities for camper vans.  We thanked the village for their hospitality by spending the evening at the local bar swapping stories with Pam and Paul who were in the van next to us and on a six week trip.  We also bought some wine from the Chusclan vineyard next door to the aire.  About a dozen motorhomes had stayed the night and nearly all of them had been over to the vineyard to purchase some of their produce.  It’s a win-win.

The Ardèche Gorge is a summer playground for families who enjoy messing about in boats…..or kayaks and rafts to be precise.  The gorge runs for thirty two kilometres from Vallon-Pont-d’Arc down to Saint-Martin-d’Ardeche.  We stopped at a free aire just outside the beautiful village of Aigèze on the other side of the river from Saint-Martin and spent a couple of days walking in the area above and through the gorge.  The sun was out and life was good.

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The aire at Aigèze.
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A walk up to a viewpoint over the Ardèche gorge.
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Aigèze.
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We had to breathe in going over the bridge in the van.
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A walk along the river.
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A nice spot for some lunch.

Then it got cold…………really cold.  Well, I have get this in perspective.  It was about two or three degrees during the day which isn’t that cold but we’ve been used to balmy temperatures for so long now it was quite the shock to the system.  And there was the wind chill too.  Tim took it all in his stride, switched back to long trousers and layered up.  I just moaned.  And moaned.  And moaned.  I can’t say I’m proud of myself as I didn’t come out of it until the end of the week when the temperatures got back into double figures again.  I was also not a happy bunny when we did the washing at one of those outdoor Intermarché self service machines and it didn’t spin it leaving it soaking wet after the program had finished.  We spent twenty minutes in the supermarket carpark wringing it all out before we could put it into the drier.  Ah, happy days indeed!  Can you tell we’re missing Greece?!

After two days at the aire at Aigèze we drove the D290 which follows the top of the gorge as far as Vallon-Pont-d’Arc.  There were plenty of places to stop and pull over to admire the magnificent views down over the gorge and we had the whole road to ourselves for over an hour.

 

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The river will be chock full of kayakers in the height of the summer.
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We’ll come back one summer and hire a canoe.

It was a bit surreal really as not one vehicle passed us in either direction. Weird.

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No-one else around.

After twenty five kilometres we realised why when we came to a Route Barrée sign telling us the road up ahead was closed during the day.  Mmm, maybe the locals were in the know but it was the first we’d seen of the closure.  Fortunately we were able to do a detour around but we didn’t get to see the Pont d’Arc natural arch over the river.  Ah well, maybe next time.

For the last few days we’ve been trundling along following the Ardèche river to its source in the Massif-Central area of France stopping at some of the sleepy villages along the way.

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Balazac village on the Ardeche.
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Vogue.

 

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A pretty section of the Auzon river near Vogue.
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Devils Bridge on the Ardeche at Thuyets.

 

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It was a narrow steep path down to the river from the aire at Thuyets.

It’s time now to head further north.

À bientôt!

Back to mainland Greece…. .

We will be saying goodbye to Greece today.  We arrived at Camping Drepano in Igoumenitsa, having completed a 2600 mile circular tour, exactly four months after arriving at the same spot in Greece last November.  The cancellation of our ferry back to Italy from Patras two weeks ago was a blessing in disguise as we have missed ‘the beast from the east’ in Northern Europe and we’ve returned to where we started out on our Greek adventure.  A nice little tying up of loose ends we think.

We left the Peloponnese heading back to mainland Greece ten days ago via the eye wateringly expensive Rio-Antirrio bridge.  €13.30 for a 1.8 mile journey.  Streuth!

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Rio-Antirrio bridge.

Wikipedia informs me that the bridge is considered to be an engineering masterpiece. Seismic activity, probable tsunamis and the expansion of the Gulf of Corinth due to plate tectonics contributed to the difficulty of the build.

 

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View from our overnight spot in Antirrio.

It seems the hefty price puts off many truckers though as we had a very enjoyable hour or so watching them squeeze backwards onto the ferries that ply the strip of water below the bridge.  Depending on the number of axles, lorries are charged between €20 to €41.50 on the bridge as opposed to €11 to €21 for the ferry.

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The trucks all had to reverse onto the ferry.

Over the bridge back onto mainland Greece we were but a stone’s throw away from Ancient Delphi which, according to legend, is the centre of the earth.  In Greek mythology Zeus released two eagles from opposite ends of the world and Delphi was the point at which they crossed after encircling the globe, thereby establishing it as the centre of the world.  So, there you go.

 

We could also visit on the first Sunday of the month for free.  Big bonus.  All the state owned historic sites are free on the first Sunday of the month in the winter.  It was the first time we’d timed it just right to be near a site for a free visit.  We made sure we arrived early as we expected it would be busy.

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The Athenian Treasury built after the battle of Marathon and reconstructed in 1906.

From the end of the 8th Century BC individuals from all over the ancient world visited Delphi to consult the God Apollo, via a priestess, on which course of action to take in both private and public life.

 

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Temple of Apollo.  The remains seen today date from the mid 4th Century BC.
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Temple of Apollo from the other end.
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Looking over the Theatre built 2,500 years ago and capable of seating 5000 people.

Delphi was also home to the panhellenic Pythian Games.  These were, after the Olympic Games, the most important sporting event in the Greek calendar.

 

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The Stadium, almost 180m long and partly hewn out of the rocks above the main sanctuary.  7000 spectators gathered every four years to watch the Pythian Games.
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Across the road and further down the hill from the main site is the Marmaria Precinct.  It is still unknown what the purpose was of the circular Tholos.  Built in the 4th Century BC it was originally surrounded by twenty columns. 

It has to be said that the site itself is set within spectacular scenery at the foothills of Mount Parnassos.  Even though it was a bit hazy the views through the valley were superb.

 

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The Sacred Way leading to the Temple of Apollo.  It was lined with up to 3000 statues and treasuries built by city-states to house their people’s offerings.

We had a very enjoyable couple of hours roaming around the site, basking in brilliant sunshine, with very few other people about.  By 11.00am though it was heaving and we only managed a quick lap around the museum as it was engulfed with people so just not enjoyable for us.  We’re not anti-people we just like our own space!

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Naxian Sphinx Statue in the Delphi Museum.

P1120451.JPGWe spent the afternoon walking one of the footpaths from the village which climbs up above the site and gives far reaching views down to the sea at Itea where we had stayed the previous night.

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Looking down the valley towards Ithea.
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The view above the site of Delphi.
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We had to wait for this guy to cross the footpath in front of us.

DSC05530.JPGAll in all a top day which we were glad we’d made the detour to do.

Back along the coast we stopped for the night at the very pretty little fishing port of Galaxídi where we made the most of the evening sunshine people watching from one of the numerous cafes.

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Galaxídi waterfront.

The town was home to some of the most important shipping families back in the 18th Century.  The neoclassical housing and mansions nod to its former wealth.  It had such a lovely atmosphere with many Greek families out enjoying a meal together.

 

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International memorial to the Wife of the Seafarer at Galaxídi.

Continuing up the west coast of mainland Greece we stopped in at Mesolóngi which is famous for its salt pans, eels and pressed cod roe.  Also Lord Byron died here in 1824 after joining the resistance during the War of Independence.  Much of the town is run down and reminded us of parts of Ioánnina we’d seen last year.  It is a fascinating place though and we stumbled across an old Ouzo shop which didn’t look like it had changed since the day they started trading in 1907.

 

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Ouzo shop in Mesolongi.

Such a lovely couple running it too who were very proud to tell us that the marble fireplace had come from the Acropolis in Athens.  Mmm, not so sure about that.

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What a place!
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We have yet to taste the Ouzo we bought.

Another little gem was a tiny bakery which still had the working wood fired bread oven along with a wizened old lady just behind the counter who did a remarkable job of upselling us some spinach pie along with our bread.

 

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The little bread shop.

Then there were the boxes of eels outside the fish shops.  I watched in morbid fascination as a chap stood perusing a box full of the sorry looking creatures before reaching in to choose his victim to take into the shop to be weighed.  I wouldn’t have the stomach to deal with an eel especially as some of them were still alive.

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A box of eels outside one of the fishmongers.

Driving out of Mesolóngi the following day we spotted flamingos, some avocets and a handful of pelicans which was a real treat as the only place we’d seen pelicans before is in Green Park in London.

 

Our last stop before completing our circular tour of Greece was the island of Lefkas connected to the mainland by a causeway.  Here we saw the most beautiful turquoise sea and probably the best beaches we have seen in Greece.  If I’d said ‘just look at the colour of that sea’ once I said it a thousand times.  What can I say I don’t get out much and I was bowled over by it!

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Just look at the colour of that sea!
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The view towards Pefkoulia beach.

Poor Tim had to endure hours of me going on and on about it.  He always puts a brave face on it.  After all, he’s used to it now after thirty years.

 

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Kathisma beach.
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Agios Nikitas.

Lefkada town is a really vibrant place too with a huge marina where a good number of people see the winter out moored up on their boats.  We spoke to a German lady who, along with her husband, spend their winters at Lefkada on their boat and the summer touring the rest of Europe in their motorhome.

 

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Identical sailboats lined up in Lefkada marina.

The old town is a wonderful warren of tiny narrow alleyways, independent shops, restaurants, cafes and brightly coloured corrugated iron clad houses.

 

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The pastel coloured corrugated iron clad houses in the old town of Lefkada.
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Such a lovely place for a wander.
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A doer-upper.
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Church bell tower (earth quake proof) in Lefkada.

So that brings us full circle back to Igoumenitsa.  We’ve spent the last couple of days on the campsite getting all the washing done, cleaning the van inside and out and watching the comings and goings of all the ferries from our front row beach side pitch.  It sounds idyllic but it looks more like a building site than a campsite.  Even though the campsite is open they are doing some major renovations so the shower and toilet blocks are closed, the wifi is flaky and the electricity goes off randomly.

 

Tim had set himself up to watch the Six Nations Rugby on Saturday night but had a mild tantrum when the wifi suddenly disappeared ten minutes before the first match.  He went off to see what was going on to be told it would be switched off for an hour or so along with the electricity as some trees needed to be felled.  Oh dear.  I could have balanced a dinner plate on his bottom lip when he returned to the van.  Ah well, this is Greece!  I’d been able to get three loads of washing done so at least I was happy.

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Goodbye Greece.

Onwards then to the manic roads that are Italy.

αντιο σας!


	

An Encore in Greece…. .

What?  An encore in Greece?  What’s going on?  I’d planned to write this blog post whilst on the ferry back to Italy last Thursday as a distraction on the twenty one hour crossing.  I’m not good on ferries and find them interminable.  The time seems to me to drag on endlessly.  I’d be absolutely hopeless on a cruise.  Assuming I wasn’t seasick, which is quite often the case, writing the blog, then, would have kept me absorbed for a significant chunk of time even if I wasn’t able to upload it to the internet.  However, I received a text from the ferry company a couple of days before our scheduled departure date which prompted a rethink of our plans.

The Minoan Lines ferry leaves from Patras, cruises for four or five hours, makes a pitstop at Igoumenitsa further up the Greek coast, before continuing on to Ancona in Italy.  Even though we’d booked the 17:00 ferry to depart on 1st March from Patras the text let us know that we had three options:  ·

  • 1. Depart from Igoumenitsa at 23:00.   ·
  • 2. Depart from Patras at 17:00 the following day.  ·
  • 3.  Have a full refund.

Oh, OK then, no apology, just a bit at the bottom of the text saying ‘thank you for your understanding’.  It’s a three hundred kilometre drive from Patras to Igoumenitsa on toll roads so option number one wasn’t favourable as we’d be out of pocket and the ferry is the same price whichever port you decide to leave from.  Option two sounded pretty good and we were going to go with that.  Ah But…. But….  That was until we read on the news and heard from friends and family about ‘the beast from the east’.  Oh yes, the good old weather in Northern Europe was freeeeeeeezing with ridiculous amounts of SNOW.  It was even snowing in Rome.  Mmm, what to do.  Option three was looking like the best option then.  We’d had several days of rain here in Greece at that point and we were really looking forward to a change of scene and a different country to explore but, if you have read this blog on a regular basis, you’ll know by now that we don’t do SNOW.   We also don’t like being cold if we can help it.  I make no apology for this as we wouldn’t be British if we weren’t always wittering on and whinging about the weather now would we?   So, we took the refund and have decided to stay in Greece a bit longer until the temperatures ‘on the other side’ look a bit more favourable.  After we’d made our decision and contacted the ferry company the sun came out.

That’s it then, now you’re up to speed on where we are I’ll let you know what we have been up to.  Well, we had a break in the weather to visit Ancient Olympia, a religious and athletic centre in its heyday and birthplace of the Olympic Games in 776 BC.  To give Tim a break from driving we took the train from Katakolo harbour where we were parked up for a couple of nights watching the rain run down the windows.

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Katakolo harbour where we stayed for two nights.

We thought it was an excellent service until we realised we would have to get two buses back as the last train left Olympia at lunchtime and only went as far as Pyrgos anyway (about halfway).  Still, it was an adventure!

Ancient Olympia is in a beautiful setting and we thoroughly enjoyed our wander around the whole site on the first sunny day we’d had in several days.  It was practically empty with few visitors and just the sound of the birds to keep us company.

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Remains of the Philippeion, commissioned by Philip II, honours the dynasty of Macedonian kings.
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The Olympic Stadium.
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Remains of the vaulted stadium entrance added in 3rd Century BC.
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Remains of the Leonidaion, accommodated distinguished guests.
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Archaeologists still working on the site.

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Metope sculptures from the temple of Zeus in the Olympia Archaeological Museum.

After the beautiful day we’d had at Olympia the weather, once again, closed in with rain so we decided to spend a couple of days at Ionion Camping at Glypha further up the coast.  It gave us the chance to get everything recharged and turned around before moving on to what would have been our last stop before leaving Greece.  The campsite is the most modern and tidy site we’ve stayed on in Greece so far but it’s a bit isolated which wouldn’t normally bother us if we are out on the bikes but with the inclement weather it was all a bit dull and miserable.  After two nights we’d walked both ways along the beach and seen what there was to see so it was time to move on.

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Camping Ionian at Glypha.  

I’d been saving the Diakoftó to Kalávryta Railway till last on our clockwise trip around the Poleponnese as it was a fifty kilometre drive beyond Patras where we were going to get the ferry from.  Conveniently there is a good size car park at the station in the little village of Daikoftó where we were able to stay for a couple of nights.  Also very conveniently the weather bucked up just at the right time giving us two brilliant days in the area.

Built between 1889 and 1895 by an Italo-French consortium to bring ore down from the Kalávryta area, the narrow gauge railway running from the coast at Diakoftó through the Voraϊkós gorge covers fourteen miles and reaches gradients of up to one in seven in parts.  A third rail (a ‘rack and pinion’ system) helps the little train up the steeper bits.  The original steam locomotives were replaced in 1959 by diesel trains and we were quite surprised that the trains used now are all modern.  We were expecting something a little more rustic but we weren’t disappointed as the route up through the gorge is just magnificent.

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The train now is really modern.

The fourteen mile journey through fourteen tunnels and over several bridges took about an hour and we arrived in Kalávryta feeling buoyant.  As the only ones on the train we’d had a ring side seat behind the driver and we were able to keep swapping sides of the carriage to take advantage of the best views.

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A ringside seat behind the driver.
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View from one of the many bridges.
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The train gets really close to the river and practically scrapes down the side of the gorge in parts.
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View from the back of the train on our return.

If Tim thought he was going to have a mooch round Kalávryta for a couple of hours before the next train ride back he was sorely mistaken.  I’d planned a walk up to a monument dedicated to the Independence of Greece in 1821 which I thought was doable in the time we had.  It was all on road but only a few cars passed us and it gave us glorious views over the snow capped mountains down through the valley.  We had our lunch sat on the monument enjoying the views.

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Flooding after all the rain we’d had.
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Views of the hills surrounding Kalávryta.
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The monument dedicated to Greece’s independence in 1821.
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View across to the hills from the monument.

Back in the village we had time to visit the Holocaust Museum housed in what had once been the village primary school.  A very humbling experience where we left very subdued indeed.  On 13th December 1943, in retaliation for the killing of seventy eight German soldiers by the Greek guerilla resistance fighters, all the male inhabitants of Kalávryta aged twelve and over were marched up to the hill overlooking the town by German troops.  It was there that they were all shot.

Only thirteen of over five hundred of the boys and men survived.  The troops also set fire to the whole village and the primary school where all the women and girls had been locked in but fortunately they managed to escape only to find their husbands and sons dead.  They then had the unenviable task of burying their dead and trying to rebuild their lives.  We walked up to the site where the atrocity happened which is now a memorial to those that lost their lives.

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The memorial at Kalávryta to those that lost their lives on 13th December 1943.

The following day we picked up a footpath and walked up through the gorge in bright sunshine passing little goat farms with their ramshackle shelters to follow the route of the train.

 

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Walking through the Voraϊkós gorge.
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A goat farm nestling in the hillside.

So now with some extended time in Greece we plan to mosey on up to Igoumenitsa to get the ferry back to Italy in a week or so when the weather has settled down a bit.  We’ll leave from whence we came having completed a big lap of Greece taking four months.

Καληνυχτα!

The final finger of the Peloponnese…. .

Well, it was bound to happen at some point on our gallivant around Greece.  An extended period of rain has grounded us.  Meh.  We can’t really complain as we’ve been in the country since the second week of November and any rain we have seen has generally been overnight, just for one or two days, or dried up pretty quickly.  So what better time to update the blog then.  I’m sitting in bed at four o’clock in the afternoon looking out at the rain streaked windows on the windswept harbour at Katakolo whilst writing this.  If it wasn’t for the blog I might be climbing the walls.

Fortunately, the deluge held off until we’d spent an enjoyable few days mooching about in Kóroni and Methóni situated towards the end of the fourth and final finger of our Peloponnese clockwise tour.  The two were both key Venetian ports in their former lives surveying the shipping lanes between the Adriatic and Crete.  First up, then, was Kóroni.  We parked beyond the town and walked the two kilometres along the beach and climbed up the steep hill to take a look at the remains of the castle walls.

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Colourful houses on the hill towards the castle at Koroni.
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I love the painted pavements.

The Timíou Prodrómou convent occupies the area within the walls and visitors are welcome to take a stroll around the grounds.  An eclectic mix of wrap around garments at the entrance provides suitable respectful cover for those unsuitably dressed.  Tim chose to stay outside.

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Outside the convent.

All the buildings are beautifully kept and surrounded by extensive gardens with a few chickens and sheep foraging about.

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View over the convent grounds.

The views over the rooftops of the town from the top of a completely unfenced crumbling building with sheer drops of ten metres off any of the sides were superb.  Curiously, it was fenced all the way up the forty or so steps but then at the top………..nothing.  The nuns had made sure they’d covered themselves against any litigation, though, with a sign saying ‘enter at your own risk’.  If I’d had children with me I’d have wanted them on a very short lead.

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View down to Koroni harbour.
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Compact Koroni.

The town below with its narrow streets and colourful buildings had a lovely feel to it and despite its obvious popularity as one of ‘the’ places to visit on the Peloponnese hasn’t succumbed to the more usual tat shop tourist scene.

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Heading down to the harbour.
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More pretty painted steps.
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View of the castle walls from the harbour.

Methóni, on the other side of the pointy bit of the peninsular, was our next stop.  After our first night in Methóni we realised that the campsite was open.  It didn’t look open as the gate was across and it looked a bit unloved and run down but open it was.  It was rough and ready but the owner was only charging €10 a night with electric, hot showers and use of the washing machine for free which was more than fair.  Shame it was broken though.

We were too late to visit the castle on the day we arrived as all the historic sites close at three o’clock in the winter so Tim decided it was high time he gave his new busking venture a go.  Whilst he entertained a small number of people sitting inside the few cafes and restaurants in the town plaza I kept a low profile and had a mooch around the beach and town.  I can’t watch.  I’m like a tense nervous parent watching their offspring at the Christmas Nativity play.

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Billy no mates!
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The bay at Methoni, sheltered by Sapientza island.

Apparently all went well and he wasn’t asked to leave so he gave it another crack the next day.  Alas, it was a little bit breezy and a gust blew over his music stand which then knocked his clarinet onto the floor.  So that was the end of that.  It wouldn’t play and now needs repairing.   It’s a cruel world the life of a busker.

To cheer him up we had a walk around the castle.  It hardly seems worth charging an entrance fee at €1 each at this time of year.  A couple of men sitting in the plastic porta cabin just beyond the entrance took our money though and gave us a shiny printed admission ticket.  Surely they can’t be paid to do that?  Surely not?  We were the only ones there.  They must get a handful of visitors at this time of year.  Maybe they were volunteers.  Still, at €1 it was a steal and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit made even more interesting by the rough (for Greece) seas.  We spent a happy half an hour watching the waves crash over the rocks.

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The bridge across the moat to Methoni Castle added by the French in 1828.
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Looking out beyond the Venetian sea-gate to the islet of Bourtzi fortified by the Turks.
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A breezy sunny day we had the whole place to ourselves.

 

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The 16th Century octagonal tower.
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View back to the castle walls.

The following day seeing as it was a Saturday and lots of people were around Tim braved the busking again.  This time with his back up clarinet.  Oh yes, he’s prepared is our Tim.  He has a spare.  Off he went whilst I read my book.  I met up with him after an hour and found him just packing up whilst swigging a beer.  Mmm, obviously things had gone well then!  Everyone had seemed to enjoy it and he was €8 and a beer better off.  He’d even taken coins off children.  Has he no shame?  Still, if they want to pass over their pocket money who am I to argue?  Not bad, almost minimum wage and this is Greece after all.  Time to celebrate with a beer at one of the cafes and a cheeky Ouzo on the beach before dinner!  I just need to get him out for eight hours a day, seven days a week and he’ll be earning enough to pay for our trip.

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Yay, Ouzo o’clock!
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Sunset over Methoni.

We left Methóni pootling further up the coast for a pitstop in Pylos before going on to Gialova Lagoon where we were hoping we would see flamingos amongst other birds which come every year.  We had a glorious day for the ten kilometre walk around the lagoon having a spot of lunch at the crescent shaped Voidokilia beach.  Fab..u..lous.

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Gialova Lagoon.
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You see how pink they really are when they take flight.
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A lovely, calm, tranquil day to visit.  Perfect.

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Views from one of the bird hides.
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Voidokilia beach.
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Yeah, right.  We’re not turning back after seven kilometres!

And there ended our good run of weather.  The day before yesterday it rained nearly all day.  Yesterday it rained nearly all day and today it has rained nearly all day.  Whether it’s the weather or the fact that our thoughts have started to drift towards our departure on the ferry next week to Italy we aren’t really feeling the love for this part of the Peloponnese since moving north of the Gialova lagoon.  We can still see the mountains in the distance, some of the time between the low flying clouds, but it is much flatter here and a bit sprawling.  Also, we pulled in to Lidl on Monday morning to find it closed as it was a bank holiday.  Always a disappointment!

I looked out of the window this afternoon and had one of the rare moments when I thought ‘what are we doing here’.  Those times are few and far between though and I’d have been thinking the same thing if I’d been in the UK with similar weather.

We. Must. Not. Grumble!

We may visit Ancient Olympia tomorrow if it’s dry.  There’s a train that runs once a day from where we are in Katakolo.  If I hadn’t seen the train this morning with my very own eyes I’d have never believed the line was still in operation looking at all the grass growing across the tracks.  Leaving the van on the harbour here and going by train will be more of an adventure but only if this weather bucks up.

Yia sas!

 

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!