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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.