The great thing about vanlife is that if you arrive somewhere and don’t feel the love for it you can just move on. Equally, if you do feel the love for somewhere you can stay longer than you’d originally intended. Marvão, a few kilometres over the border into Portugal was one of those places that waylaid us. By a week. We’d intended staying a night or two but……..well…….we couldn’t tear ourselves away. If we hadn’t needed to be further south by the end of October we would probably have stretched our stay into two weeks. Or three. Admittedly we had a spell of warm sunny weather so that always makes a difference. Pitched up at Asseiceira camping we relaxed into rural life in Portugal.
The hilltop town of Marvão probably is the main attraction for visitors to this area of the Alentejo region of Portugal.
And it is spectacular perched on top of a high peak, but for me it was the rolling, granite bouldered landscape with miles and miles of traffic free lanes to explore on the bike that captured my attention.
I’d been sadly disillusioned exploring Cornwall by bike whilst we were working on a campsite during the summer by the amount of traffic I had to contend with even on the minor roads. Everywhere seemed to be rat run to get from one place to another. In contrast the bike riding around Marvão was completely stress free and practically car free.
According to Wikipedia the Alentejo region of Portugal covers over 27,000 square kilometres with a population density averaging less than twenty people per square kilometre. Cornwall on the other hand covers 3,500 square kilometres and during the summer months has a population density of over 12000 people per square kilometre. Quite a difference then. Sheesh, no wonder it felt soooo busy in Cornwall. Anyway, hopefully I’ve got the maths right there as it has never been one of my strengths.
So the Alentejo then is a vast area covering a chunk of Portugal which stretches from the Atlantic coast in the west to the Spanish border in the east and the Algarve in the South. We’d explored some of the south eastern area around Monsaraz in 2016 and really loved it and we weren’t disappointed with the north eastern part either.
You really can’t beat a hilltop town for a good old exploration on foot. Marvão at over eight hundred metres is the highest village in the Alentejo. It is enclosed by 13th Century walls, has a castle at the top where you can walk the walls if you’ve a head for heights, some formal gardens and narrow medieval winding streets lined by white washed houses. On a good day the panoramic views all around are worth the climb up.
The campsite we stayed on is just outside the workaday little town of Santo António das Areias and just under five kilometres from Marvão.
After a walk or a cycle we enjoyed popping into the mini market everyday for a coffee and a pastel de nata to observe village life in action. There’s a little cafe inside the mini market with a couple of tables and it seemed to be the hub of the town.
A steady stream of people would come in, order a coffee, have a chitty chat with whoever happened to be in there at the time, buy a few groceries and then go again. Everyone seemed to know everyone and happily spent a few minutes chewing the fat. Barely a mobile phone in sight. You do have to have a bit of patience or time on your hands when buying your groceries in rural towns and villages in Portugal as no one appears to be in a hurry. News is swapped and children are cooed over. We are so used to standing in a queue at a check-out, being served briskly with no one exchanging a word because everyone is in a hurry. It’s quite the mind set change but a refreshing change at that.
It felt good to be back in Portugal but time was pressing on so after a week we reluctantly moved on. Having been brought up by the sea and then spending over twenty years being a two hour drive away from the sea we’re still always drawn to it. We do like a good coastal walk so after an overnight stop in Évora we spent a few of nights on the Atlantic coast before arriving just over the border into the Algarve for an extended stop.
As regular readers of the blog will know we are swapping van life for bricks and mortar life this winter.
It will be a chance to take an extended break from travelling and van dwelling to relax, recharge, regroup, reset, reflect and reboot.
Well that’s the theory anyway.
We moved out of the van yesterday.
Time will tell to see how it all pans out and how we get on.
After leaving our last Helpx near Niort in the Poitou Charente region we headed south beyond Bordeaux bound for the sea on La Côte D’Argent – the Silver Coast. The big draw for us to this area was the endless sandy beaches. We do like a nice good, long sandy beach. The Côte D’Argent covering more than 200km from Pointe de Grave in the north and Bayonne in the south, is, according to our Rough Guide to France, the longest, straightest, sandiest stretch of coastline in Europe which boasts La Dune de Pilat, the largest dune in Europe as well as Les Landes, the largest forest in Western Europe. There was also the promise of some nice, flat, easy cycling along traffic free cycleways through the forest.
For our first couple of nights we parked up at a free aire at Le Teich, east of Arcachon. Being one of the most important wetland areas left in France it was a perfect stop off for a couple of days of rest and relaxation to do a spot of birdwatching. The Parc Ornitholigique du Teich is a bird sanctuary and protected area and we enjoyed the peace and quiet of two different walks. The wetland area seems a world away from the approach to it as it seemed as if everyone was escaping to the coast from Bordeaux for the weekend.
We had intended to have a gander around Arcachon but decided against it after seeing the queues of traffic to get there. Instead we peeled off to the south to the Dune du Pilat. We caught a glimpse through the trees of a crowd of people on the dune not long before we got to the parking area. Tim said ‘oh look at all those people on that dune there must be some sort of event going on’. I said ‘Tim, the dune is the event’. Tim’s general modus operandi is to just punch in the co-ordinates to the satnav that I give him without asking where or what it is we are headed for. He is more than happy to wait for everything to unfold before him all in its own time. I think it must be a nice way to be but I’m too much of a control freak to be able to be like that as I need to know where we are going and why way before we have even started the engine. It’s fair to say we were both really impressed by the scale of the dune. We’d parked half a mile away from the main parking area which proved to be a wise decision as a footpath through the forest led to the bottom of the dune where we could make our ascent by ourselves without any company at all.
At over one hundred metres high, three kilometres long and five hundred metres wide it really was an impressive sight especially as we had the perfect weather for it.
A very gregarious French chap in the car park called us over just as we were locking up the van and advised us to scramble to the top, walk the length of the ridge, slide down to the beach, then walk back along the beach and to return to the car park via another footpath. It was good advice as it made for an excellent two hour round trip.
Numerous sea side resorts which are popular with surfers dot this stretch of coastline whilst inland a string of lakes draw in fishermen, boaters and families as they offer watersports facilities and safe swimming. We enjoyed a lunch time stop at Cazaux-Sanguinet lake on our way to our overnight stop at Gastes. It must get absolutely packed in July and August but we were able to enjoy a stroll along the lakeside with just a few other families.
I was absolutely chuffed to bits to watch three young otters feeding in between the moorings at the side of the lake opposite the aire in Gastes the following morning. Oh if only I’d had my camera with me but I was just returning from the early morning walk to the boulangerie with a baguette safely tucked under my arm so hadn’t even thought about taking the camera with me. C’est la vie!
We were fortunate with the weather for the ten days we spent on the Côte D’Argent as we could imagine the area could be a bit desolate out of season in inclement weather. Some of the resorts were completely closed up for the season whilst others just had a few cafes open even though we were still basking in sunshine in the low twenties.
Fortunately we were spoilt for choice with aires, which ranged from between 6 and 10 euros a night, spending a couple of nights at a time in one place giving us time to get out on the bikes to explore.
There isn’t a coastal road as such but there is a cycleway that winds its way through the forest and forms part of La Velo Odyssee, a 1200 kilometre cycle route linking Roscoff in northern France to Hendaye on the Spanish border.
Traffic free, smooth and pretty much flat we happily tootled along through the pine trees stopping in at a resort or two to have lunch and to watch the few surfers that were out.
The Landes forest is totally vast and totally manmade. Until a century ago the constantly shifting dunes made any attempt to settle or cultivate the land impossible. Pines and grasses were planted to anchor the dunes and they now extend to over 10 000 square kilometres and were declared a parc naturel régional in 1970. It’s an under-populated area but wealthy thanks to its pinewood and pine derivatives.
Our last port of call along this coast before we moved into the Pays Basque region was Capbreton. There is a large aire behind the beach which is really just a car park but convenient for getting out onto the beach and soaking up the atmosphere. It’s a popular area and much more lively with hundreds of surfers out.
A perfect evening for a bit of body surfing before the setting sun.
Well, how lucky have we been? Sun and clear skies have accompanied us on our journey north from Inverness to the top of Scotland. It seems we picked the perfect window in the weather to explore a section of the NC500. It was more an NC100 rather than 500 as we didn’t have time to do it all. My nephew, who we met up with in Thurso, said he had never seen weather like it in the three years he has lived there. Totes amaze! We meandered along the section across the top of the Highlands from Durness in the west to Duncansby Stacks in the east before heading south for a few days in Edinburgh. Now, I could blather on and on, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah about the spectacular scenery and beautiful weather but I’m not even going to try. The pictures say it all. So here they are………….
Well the Isle of Skye has certainly come up trumps with the weather. Apart from one misty morning it has all been wall to wall sunshine. So much so I’ve burnt the back of my knees. Doh! The first thing that struck us when we arrived on Skye at the ferry port in Uig is that we weren’t going to have the island to ourselves. I suppose that’s not surprising as it is said to be the most visited destination in Scotland.
We started our tour off on the Trotternish Peninsular north of Uig to do some walking in the Quiraing, an area famous for its rock pinnacles, sheer cliffs and rock formations.
What a great couple of days walking we had amongst the rocks then up onto the top with far reaching views across towards the mainland.
We saw several sightings of cuckoos perched on the rocks in those two days. I tell you, from never having seen a cuckoo in the flesh before we have seen more than you can shake a stick at up here.
Further south towards Portree the Old Man of Storr, the most celebrated column of rock on the island, is a real draw for visitors. We planned on an early shin up the hill and back before all the crowds arrived but with the clouds down over the hills that morning we didn’t see much. The low cloud/mist did clear in and out but we didn’t think the Old Man was as spectacular as all the hype makes it out to be.
The views on the way back down under the cloud line were impressive though.
We’d started our walk at about eight o’clock and it took about an hour and a half to get up there and back but by the time we got down the parking areas on both sides of the road were full and a steady stream of people were on their way up. It was time to move on!
We made a quick pit stop in Portree at the free long stay car park for a wander round the harbour area followed by the weekly shop at the Co-op there.
The Co-op seems to have a monopoly on the Outer Hebrides and Skye as there isn’t really any other choice other than a few tiny mini markets dotted about. It’s a shame because we’ve lost the will to live in every single one of them. It’s not what they stock that is lacking but the fact that there always seem to be member’s of staff replenishing the shelves in virtually every single aisle taking up nearly all the space with cages of new stock and empty packaging all over the place. All their shops seem to have narrow aisles making it extremely tedious to get round other shoppers and staff. I don’t blame the staff as they are only doing their job but why can’t they restock when the store is closed or not a peak times? Why?! Even Tim who is normally patience personified has succumbed to trolley rage almost dumping a half filled trolley in an aisle and stomping off back to the van. He probably would have done if he could have found a space in an aisle to park it. Anyway, rant over. And relax!
With clear blue skies and temperatures in the low twenties it was a chance to cook outside again.
I grant you it’s not often you would see sausage curry on the menu of an Indian restaurant but in the absence of any other form of meat it had to do. Try it, we recommend it!
We walked the four miles or so from our overnight stop across open moorland to Dunvegan Castle, the seat of the Clan Macleod since the thirteenth century but at £14 each to go in we gave it a miss and had coffee and cake at Jann’s Cakes in the village instead.
The following day we cycled to Claigan Coral Beaches just north of Dunvegan. The sand is made up of calcified maerl (seaweed) and tiny sea shells. Our guide book says that ‘on a sunny day the white sands and aqua water could almost be the Carribean’ but that description is probably stretching it a bit as there wasn’t much aqua water to be seen as it was full of seaweed.
It was a nice spot for lunch though. I think we weren’t totally wowed by it after having experienced the beaches of the Outer Hebrides.
A big draw for walkers on Skye is the Cuillin mountain range which has over twenty Munros to be bagged. The Munro baggers visiting Skye for the week must have been kicking their legs in the air on account of the clear blue sky weather we were having making for spectacular walking in the hills. With not an OS map between us though we played it safe with a lovely circular walk around the coast of the Suisnish peninsular which gave us excellent views of the mountains in the distance.
Our final night on Skye we parked up at Kyleakin with a view of the bridge. Whilst having a cup of tea with our door open a van parked up next to us with New Zealand flags adorning one of the windows. A young lad appeared at our door to introduce himself and we spent the next hour or so hearing all about his travels. At ten years old he is far more well travelled than we are having visited nearly every country in Europe. He and his parents are on the last few months of an eighteen month tour of Europe before shipping back their van, which they’d bought in the UK, to New Zealand. Marvellous.
So that was Skye. Again, we didn’t have time to see all that was to see but time is marching on and we need to get a move on.
Across the causeway from Eriskay brings you into South Uist, home to long, white, sandy beaches on the west coast and rolling peat moors, inlets and rocky hills on the east coast. There are sooo many deserted beaches on these islands. Waking up in the morning and rolling out of the van straight onto a sandy beach all to myself to do my morning exercise routine has been another highlight of our trip. Swinging about a couple of little yellow dumbbells whilst watching sanderlings skitter up and down the shoreline or listening to a couple of terns squawking their displeasure at having unwanted company sure beats wiping down the sweat of the previous occupant on the equipment at my local gym before using it. Of course I don’t do this routine every morning as I’m really not that disciplined but when I do remember to do it and make the effort it is always worth it…….even more so on an empty beach without curious onlookers making me feel acutely self conscious and ridiculous…….except on one occasion when two gorgeous coffee and cream coloured young bullocks watched me with expressions that distinctly said WTF?
After our first night on South Uist the fickle hand of the weather had us scuttling off to Lochboisdale on the other side of the island to seek some refuge from the wind which had battered us overnight at our exposed position right behind the beach. As I’ve mentioned before high winds have us praying that our roof vents will still be intact when we wake up in the morning. Being made of plastic they really aren’t the best and the wind manages to get under them constantly making them rattle. Tim has solved the problem on three of them with a simple system of elastic bands and suckers to hold them in place but we have one which is a wind up affair with an integral fan within it which makes it impossible for that solution to work without taking it to bits and punching a hole through a fly screen. On the second night of the ruddy thing rattling and constantly waking us up Tim got up in the early hours to deal with it. I woke up a few hours later to find the temporary solution in place. Mmm, not ideal but it did give us a few hours of uninterrupted sleep.
Cable ties have sorted the little blighter out now. We can’t open it or use the fan and the fly screen is in tatters but that’s the price we have to pay for a better nights sleep and it’s preferable to a hole in the roof.
Once at Lochboisdale we found some shelter behind a couple of containers in the harbour and sat out the inclement weather until it was time in the early evening to visit the hotel bar, sit round an open fire and upload the last blog post. As there are next to no trees on the islands I asked the lady behind the bar if it was expensive to import wood or coal. She said they buy a tonne of coal at a time which a few years ago cost them £700 but now costs £1300 and they sometimes mix it with peat if they’ve cut any that year. Peat used to be an important natural fuel source here on the islands but now electricity, oil and gas have largely taken over.
A couple of days later we were waylayed by the most perfect pile of peat we’d ever seen before. It was a work of art I tell you.
We had to stop and take a photo of it. The owner of the house was pottering about outside and after checking it was OK to take a photo he very happily answered all our questions about it. He gathers it once a year from the moorland which has been allocated to him and it takes six people just one day to cut enough peat to supply his home with free energy for cooking, hot water and heat for an entire year. After it’s cut it’ll take him three to four days of numerous trips to get it back to the house where he spends the next two weeks of his spare time building his masterpiece to dry it out before it can be used. Marvellous. The actual pile in the pictures is half of what it was and he showed us a framed picture of the completed work of art.
He also told us all about how the peat is cut and showed us the tools they use which he keeps submerged in water all year round. We were so glad we stopped and it is good to see an old tradition alive and well.
Two consecutive days of clear dry weather had us out on the bikes again. Apart from the punishing wind it really is a great place for cyclists and we’ve seen many a happy smiling cycle tourer blasting along with a tail wind heading north. Those heading south are generally grimacing but I’m sure they’re enjoying every minute of it. For us, as we are doing circular routes or out and back routes, it’s fifty fifty for the wind with or against us…..grimace on the way out and smile on the way back.
A day of walking followed where we had intended to walk to Uisinis Bothy and back on the eastern side of the island but was curtailed when we realised, when the path fizzled out after an hour or so, that we’d taken the wrong fork earlier on so retraced our steps and spent a while listening to the birds over a long lunch overlooking the sea.
The cycle of the weather has been such that a couple of days of decent weather have been followed by a wet and wild one. Either a library or a museum come in handy on those days. The Kildonan Museum on the A865 is a very pleasant place to while away an hour or so followed by coffee and cake in the attached cafe. It tells the story of Island life through its exhibits, collections and pictures.
Benbecula gets quite an unkind write up by our guide saying ‘the only reason to come to Balivanich, Benbecula’s grim, grey capital, is if you are flying into or out of Benbecula airport, or you need an ATM or supermarket’. As the weather had closed in again with mist and drizzle I confess we did what most people probably do and that is drive straight across it to get to North Uist. It is apparently pancake flat but we couldn’t tell as the mist denied us seeing it. We did stop at the Co-op to do our weekly shop though to spread our spending on all the islands less one feel left out.
North Uist is more of the same landscapes as we had seen on South island but I don’t mean that in any disparaging way at all but I’m running out of superlatives to describe how fabulous these islands are.
You see some curious things when out either walking or cycling. From a couple of fields away, through the binoculars, I spotted a sheep with all four legs in the air. I dimly remember reading something somewhere that said if a sheep is on its back then it’s not that way deliberately and will die if it’s not turned over. Well we got to her and got her turned over but she was too weak to get up so we went to the nearest house to let them know.
The very friendly lady who answered went next door to talk to who she thought was the owner. We didn’t linger around as there wasn’t anything else we could do so hopefully she was saved. I looked it up later and, when the sheep is in the upside down position like that, it’s the gasses in their stomach from all that grass eating that swell up and eventually press on their lungs eventually suffocating them. They don’t get into that position on purpose but it can happen if they are carrying lambs or their fleece is heavy with water.
Another curious sight also involving sheep happened after we’d done a long walk around the peninsular at Granitote. Traigh Ear beach at low tide is a vast expanse of hard packed sand. Just as we were finishing our walk we watched a ewe with her two lambs trailing behind her wander down onto the beach. She then just kept going. And going . And going. She was on a mission. She must have walked a mile or so to get to the grass on the other side of the bay. Obviously ‘the grass is greener’ isn’t just a human thing after all.
Later, when the tide had come in creating a vast expanse of knee deep water, the farmer with his dogs, rounded up his flock and walked them all down into the water where the dogs held them there for about ten minutes or so. They were only in up to their knees so I doubt it was a swimming lesson. The dogs looked to be thoroughly enjoying racing around in the water making sure they kept together. They then all ambled back up the beach to recommence eating grass. Maybe the salt water stops them getting foot rot?
The final island before getting the ferry across to Harris is Berneray linked by a causeway to North Uist.
It is just a wee thing measuring two miles by three, with a population of just 140. It is just delightful. I think it could be my favourite island so far. Mind you, that could be because the constant blasting wind we have had everyday had finally tempered down to a light breeze and we could actually hear the silence . I even had a burnt face by the end of the day. Sun burn in the Outer Hebrides. Who’d have thought?
The little museum run by volunteers tells the story of island life with hundreds of donated photos to peruse. Seals bask off the rocks close into the shore without seemingly a care in the world.
As our friend Chris would say………..happiness on a stick!
Time for a ferry ride to Harris and Lewis, the last island we’ll be exploring on the Outer Hebrides.
Arriving on the bonny bonny banks of Loch Lomond just north of Balloch on a calm day in bright sunshine I just thought why? WHY? WHHYYY? Why have I never been to Scotland before now? What have I been doing all my life to not have experienced this before? What was the matter with me? I’ve been all over England and Wales and parts of Southern Ireland so why did I leave out Scotland? Strolling along the Loch shore into Balloch I started to lament all the missed opportunities over the years.
With all the rugged hills in the distance contrasting with the stillness of the loch I almost felt like I’d found my spiritual home. I’d been living half a century in the Westcountry when I should have been born in Scotland!
Two days later my questions were answered. Scotland isn’t green for no reason. Plenty of rain helps to keep it the way it is. After a bracing windy walk across the hills near Oban the rain came in and stayed for twenty four hours. Ah yes, I remember now, that was why I’d never been to Scotland before, the unpredictable weather.
Living in the South West it’s a looong drive to the Highlands and every time we’d mooted about doing a tour of Scotland for a one or two week holiday we’d always decided against playing Russian roulette with the weather and opted to visit areas closer to home. Why we were put off by the drive really is beyond me as Tim had many a family holiday in the Highlands in his younger days travelling from Devon with half a dozen other family members crammed into a Hillman Imp borrowed from the next door neighbour! With more modern transport and road networks it’s hardly the end of the earth but we always found an excuse to go somewhere closer to home.
We had originally planned to ‘do’ Scotland last year but chickened out and went chasing the sun instead. This year, though, we are ready for it! Fear not, I am not going to be a whining, whinging, moaning Minnie about the weather whilst we are here. We are embracing Scotland and all the wild weather it has to throw at us. The waterproofs are out, we’re layered up and we are ready.
Our first stop in Oban served as a jumping off point for visiting the islands of the Outer Hebrides. Over two hundred islands make up the Western Isles as they are officially known with just a handful being inhabited by the 28000 or so hardy residents. The plan for the first couple of weeks is to island hop our way from South to North taking in the islands of Barra, Eriskay, Benbecula, South Uist, North Uist, Harris and Lewis before jumping across to the Isle of Skye for a week or so.
Although I usually HATE trips by ferry I was actually quite looking forward to the nearly five hour journey to Barra across the Minch at the southern end of the Isles as for the first half of the journey the boat meanders through a narrow stretch of water flanked on one side by the coast of Western Scotland and on the other by the islands of Mull and Coll. We’d been lucky that the weather had cleared up and was clear and sunny for the trip over giving us fabulous views all around. Once out into the open sea though my queasiness took over and I spent much of the time outside on deck trying not to bring up the contents of my lunch.
Arriving on the island in the early evening it struck us almost immediately that the bobble hat is alive and well on Barra. They are everywhere! Barra is certainly a bijou island at just eight miles long by four miles wide but it is known as the Western Isles in miniature boasting sandy beaches backed by machair, Gaelic culture, prehistoric ruins and a few mountains thrown in for good measure……….and……..quicksand!
Over the last week we have got out to explore Barra by boot and by bike. Nearly all the roads are single track but with passing places every few hundred metres or so and little island traffic it has been completely stress free getting from place to place. Everyone seems to drive at a sensible speed and gives a little wave on passing which is all very civilised and a welcome change from our usual type of driving.
One of the islands claim to fame is that the airport that sits on the edge of Traigh Mhór bay is the only beach runway in the world receiving scheduled flights. It is quite the attraction. The runway is tide dependant and the public aren’t allowed on the beach when the windsocks are flying. Whilst we were walking on the other beach behind the airport a little twin otter plane circled above us in the squally wind and rain getting ready to land but because the dunes are in the way obscuring our view we didn’t see it touch down on the sand. When we arrived at the airport cafe fifteen minutes later, the place alive with steaming waterproofs and steaming people, the three cheery ladies working at the cafe were belting out Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I will survive’. I guess it must have been a bit of a bumpy landing.
The plane taxis right up to the airport building to drop off its passengers where they can then take a short walk to the bus shelter around the side of the building which also doubles up as the baggage reclaim. Fantastic.
We whiled away a couple of hours over coffee and cake drying out and soaking up the jovial atmosphere of the place only leaving after the plane had taken off again.
We’ve tramped around various areas of the island in some interesting wild weather but we’ve enjoyed every minute of it. The beaches are some of the best we have seen on our travels so far with the ground up sea shells giving them their distinctive light colouring. Learning that the crushed cockleshells are used to make harling (the rendering used on many Scottish houses) changed my opinion of what I deemed to be ugly pebbledash which I had assumed was imported in.
Cycling round the island yesterday in beautiful sunny weather was an absolute treat despite being against the wind for half of it. Stopping to take photos at low tide with the seaweed revealed captured some of the iconic views that the islands are famous for.
So far our Scotland trip has already surpassed our expectations and I’m still bashing myself over the head for not having visited before.
Today we hopped onto the ferry which took us, in the warming sunshine, across the water to Eriskay where we docked forty minutes later scraping our back end on the tarmac coming off the ferry (roll eyes). It doesn’t take much of an angle to ground out the electrics on our tow bar!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’ve been out on the bike whilst Tim has been fettling his new toy.
Obviously with the mountains it’s extremely hilly but the effort is so worth it as the scenery is absolutely magnificent.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!