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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Getting to grips with mountain passes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tim in contemplative mood.

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

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The ‘stuff’ has gone.

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

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

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

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Sign at the campsite in Split, Croatia.
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Cheers!

For now, then, the journey continues:)

So long!

Running repairs…. .

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

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

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

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

 

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Everything prepped ready for the new water pump.

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

 

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The shiny new water pump in situ.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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Epidaurus Theatre.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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Before……..

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

 

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……….and after 🙂

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

 

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

I have faith.

I’m sure it has.

I’ll let you know next week.

αντιο σας!

Tolo to Poros…. .

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

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Our parking spot just around the headland from Tolo.

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

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The view out from Tolo harbour.

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

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Tolo seafront.

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

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

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The beautiful countryside looking back from Kanapitsa.

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

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

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

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

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The abandoned hotel at Salanti.

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

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Inside the hotel.

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

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

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

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

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Franchthi Cave..

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

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Views towards the fisheries west of Salanti.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Epiphany celebrations in Ermioni.

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

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The short service.

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

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One lucky swimmer gets the cross.

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

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Didgeridoo lessons from our French neighbours.

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

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

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

Αντίο!

Pootling round the Peloponnese…. .

After an arctic few days spent in Athens we headed for a Camperstop at Ancient Corinth on the Peloponnese to have the luxury of electric hook up for a few days over the Christmas period.   What a good choice it turned out to be.  Vasillis, the octogenarian owner, has converted part of his garden to accommodate a dozen or so vans.

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The Camperstop at ancient Corinth.

At just a five minute walk into the centre of the village it was ideal.  We made ourselves at home, had some breakfast, went for a walk round the village and then sat outside in the sun at the communal area on the site where Vasillis has a little area displaying his homemade wine, olive oil and vegetables which he sells on an honesty box basis.

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Enjoying the sunshine in the communal seating area.

We chatted to Bernard, a German chap who spends the winter on the site, who invited us and the other campers to the midnight service on Christmas Eve at the village church.  We’d never been to a Greek Orthodox service before so we felt very fortunate to have been included even if it was the latest night we’d had in the last two years!  We’re normally tucked up reading a book by 9.00 pm in the winter and we did have to set the alarm to make sure we were awake at 11.00 pm when it was time to set off for the twenty minute walk up to the church.

 

All the campers were also invited to spend Christmas lunch with Vassillis and his family the following day.  We all contributed a nominal sum to cover the cost of the food and we were treated to a traditional Greek Christmas lunch sitting out on the veranda in the sun.  After a two hour walk on Christmas morning up the hill to see the views from the ruins of the Acrocorinth fortress we settled down for a Greek feast with a mix of nationalities – Greek, German, English, Dutch and French.

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Goats in the village.
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A shepherd tending his flock on Christmas day.
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View over ancient Corinth on our walk up to Acrcorinth.
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A Greek feast on Christmas day.
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A big thank you to our host, Vasillis and his family, for a wonderful Christmas lunch 🙂
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Tim did a bit of entertaining later in the day.

It was a day we will remember for a long time to come and so unexpected which made it even more special.

The Peloponnese peninsular would be an island if it weren’t for the four mile width of the Corinth Isthmus.  In the olden days, to avoid the stormy cape at the southernmost point of the Peloponnese, and before the Corinth canal was built, boats were unloaded on one shore of the isthmus and dragged across the four mile stretch on a paved slipway before being refloated on the other side.  It wasn’t until 1893 that the twenty three metre wide Corinth Canal was finally completed.  Alas, the canal is not a viable option for huge modern container ships and now generally only accommodates yachts and small freight.

We cycled down there on Boxing Day to take a look.  We were able to cycle most of the length of the canal on a rough track without having to fight through any traffic but we weren’t lucky enough to see anything passing through.

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The sinking bridge at the northern end of the canal – a shame we didn’t see it in action.
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We were able to cycle on a path away from any traffic to get good views of the canal.
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A boat was just going out of the Southern end.

Our Dutch neighbours who had cycled there a couple of days earlier were able to watch a barge going through being towed by a tug.

 

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Thank you to Els, our Dutch neighbour, who emailed me her picture.

It is thanks to this narrow isthmus between the Saronic and Corinthian Gulfs that Ancient Corinth gained its prosperity.  That four mile stretch was the shortest route for passage from the eastern Mediterranean to the Adriatic and Italy.  Founded in Neolithic times, ancient Corinth, ten or so kilometres from the canal, then, became the largest Roman township in Greece with a population of 750,000.

 

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The remains of Ancient Corinth.

 

Acrocorinth, the acropolis of ancient Corinth, which sits on the hill 2.5 miles above ancient Corinth, is a vast sixty acre site accessed via three successive gateways from different eras – Ottoman, Frankish and Byzantine.  We walked up there for a second time to take a look when it was open.  We were free to roam anywhere we wanted across the site.  The views from the top are spectacular and you can apparently see up to sixty kilometres in every direction on a clear day.

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The first gateway to Acrocorinth.
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We walked all over the Acrocorinth site.  It was a good workout after walking from the village.

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The views are amazing.

We said goodbye to our neighbours and reluctantly left the Camper stop after having spent four nights there to continue round the Peloponnese in a clockwise direction.  From what we have seen so far we are loving the Peloponnese which has been helped, in some part, by the clear warm sunny days we have had since leaving Athens.

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Our overight stop at Korphos.
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The sleepy seafront at Korphos.
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This fisherman appears to have arrived at a sheltered cove by life raft!
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A fishery at Agios Petros.
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Church and taverna at Ormos Nea Ephidaurus.

After a few days pootling about the small fishing villages of Korphos and Ormos Nea Ephidaurus we were, once again, in need of a washing machine.  I know I am such a bore about the laundry but the feng shui in the van is just not right when there is an overflowing bag of dirty washing lurking about!  After a bit of googling I found some info on Trip Adviser about a dry cleaners in Napflio, that would maybe do a wash for you.  As it was just up the road from a Lidl, and we were in need of a weekly shop, we cut straight across the peninsular on the E070 to find out.  And what a beautiful drive it was too up and down through olive, orange and lemon groves.  At the dry cleaners we were in luck.  Our washing was done for us whilst we cruised the aisles of Lidl and was ready by the time we’d packed away our shopping.  Equilibrium was restored once again.

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Yay, laundry all done for another couple of weeks.

Náfplio is said to be the most elegant town in mainland Greece with its marble pavements, castles and Venetian influenced architecture.  We walked the five kilometres from Karathona bay, where we’d parked overnight, along a footpath around the bottom of the cliffs into Náfplio giving us views of the Akronaflía and Palamidi fortresses from below.  The path took us straight in to the old town which we decided was an excellent way to arrive.

 

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The footpath from Karathona to Nafplio.
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The fortified isle of Bourtzi, north of Náfplio harbour.

We drove over to see what it was like on New Year’s Eve after speaking to our friend Chris who told us the celebrations at Easter in Náfplio were quite big.  We parked up in the large carpark on the quayside with several other vans and had a very enjoyable wander around the town in the evening with lots of other families before grabbing a bite to eat.  There didn’t appear to be anything going on later in the evening so we returned to the van to watch ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’.

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Xmas carols on New Years Eve.
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Náfplio at night.

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Outdoor cinema in Náfplio on New Years Eve.

We were woken up at midnight by a deafening fog horn blasting from one of the huge freight boats moored not far from us followed by fireworks going off in front of the fortress. So much for nothing going on in Náfplio on New Years Eve then!

ευτυχισμένο το νέο έτος!


	

Arctic Athens…. .

Our arrival in Athens coincided with a dramatic drop in temperature.  We went from T-shirt weather to T-hermals weather in the space of twenty four hours.  An arctic northerly wind was blowing right across the city.  We decided to brave the Athens traffic and head for a guarded parking spot in the Piraeus district on the southern end of the city.  At €13 per night it’s less than half the price of the two campsites on the outskirts of Athens and as we would be out and about sightseeing all day it didn’t make sense, in our eyes, to stump up the extra cash for a campsite.  Maria, the lady who mans the car park from 7.00 am to 5.00 pm daily, welcomed us and shuffled a big SUV to another area of the carpark so that we could squeeze in.  It was smaller than we expected but absolutely fine and with a rolling steel security gate which locked us in between 10.00pm and 7.00am we felt very safe.  We would recommend it as a no frills safe parking spot to ‘do’ Athens.

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Guarded parking at Piraeus – this picture was taken on Christmas Eve just before we left – when we arrived it was practically full.

The Metro was a five minute walk away with trains running to the centre of the city every ten minutes for €1.40 each way.  All the public transport we have used in Greece has been really efficient and cheap so a big tick for Greece on that score.  We were within spitting distance of the Acropolis within thirty minutes of leaving the van.  Tim was keen to crack on with getting the Acropolis and the Parthenon under our belts before the weather deteriorated.  We finally found the entrance after a thirty minute detour in the wrong direction which took us into the Anafiótika area, one of the old districts in Athens, below the northern slopes of the Acropolis.  I had a poke about up and down the narrow alleys and steps feeling more like I was nosing round a hilltop village rather than being in the centre of the largest city in Greece.

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The little streets in the Anafiótika area below the northern slopes of the Acropolis.
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Worn steps.
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Looking down on the Anafiótika area, one of the oldest settlements in Athens.

Backtracking we finally found the entrance to the Acropolis and spent a very cold but enjoyable couple of hours taking it all in.  The weather and the time of year did us a favour as it was extremely quiet and we didn’t have to fight our way through hordes of other people or have an eye or two poked out by marauding selfie sticks.

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The Acropolis taken from Areopagus Hill.
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Theatre of Herodes Atticus.

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Figure of the comic Satyr, Silenus, seen in the Theatre of Dionysos.

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Parthenon.
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Looking back over to the Theatre of Herodes Atticus.
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Sculpture on the east pediment of the Parthenon.
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We were fortunate not to have any crowds.
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Porch of the Caryatids (replacements of the originals) – four of the originals can be seen in the Acropolis Museum
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Theatre of Herodes Atticus seen from the other side.
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Tower of the Winds – octagonal structure built as a water clock and weather vane by Andronikos Kyrrestes in the 1st Century BC..
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Each side has an external frieze personifying the eight winds.

I had done a little homework before we got to Athens and had semi planned an itinerary so as to make the best use of our time there.  It is like no other city we have visited.  We only really scratched the surface and would happily visit again to see more.  Aside from the ancient sites we thoroughly enjoyed mooching about the flea markets in the warren of streets in the Monastiráki district.  The shop keepers wares sprawled out onto the pavements in front of the dilapidated, graffiti covered buildings in which they are housed.

 

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Flea market in the Monastiráki district.

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P1110373.JPGGrafitti is everywhere in Athens, and also much of what we have seen of Greece.

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Graffiti is everywhere……………
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……….even on the cacti!

The central meat and fish markets are on the scale of nothing we have ever seen before.  It was a mass of people, noise and activity and……………dead things that I’d rather not see but fascinating all the same.  I suspect that what you can buy there is the freshest you will ever get.

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Central meat market.
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I really should be a vegetarian.
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It was really noisy in the fish market.
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You don’t want to be wearing open toed sandals in here!

If you are in need of anything be it ironmongery, batteries, spices, fabric, birds, rope, antiques, art, crafts, jewellery, handmade shoes, bikes, paints etc etc you will be sure to find it in central Athens.

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You can get anything in central Athens.

One of the highlights for both of us was a visit to the Acropolis Museum.  Now, I’m not really one for museums as I do have a short attention span but what clinched it for me and for Tim was the building it is housed in.  Decades in the planning and designed by Bernard Tschumi, it opened in 2008.  Concrete pillars and a glass walkway suspend the building above an early Christian settlement.  The top floor has a panoramic view of the Parthenon and displays the remaining original parts of the Parthenon frieze that are still in Greece in the order that they would have graced the Parthenon itself.

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The approach to the Acropolis Museum – the building is suspended over an early Christian settlement.
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Because it is spacious it doesn’t feel busy.

 

 

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The four original Caryatids and a cast of the fifth – the gap is there ready to receive the sixth one if the British Museum ever decide to give it back!
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The view of the Parthenon from the Parthenon Gallery on the top floor.
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The display of the remaining original parts of the Parthenon Frieze.

We missed the changing of the guards at Plateía Syntágmatos Square, home to the Greek Parliament and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, but saw the National Guard (ézones) in action outside the Presidential Palace the following day.

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Plateía Syntágmatos Square, home to the Greek Parliament and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

They stand motionless for an hour before it is time to switch with another guard.  During the changing they work together to perfectly co-ordinate their moves.   I’m not sure they can really concentrate on guarding anything when they are so busy co-ordinating their arms, legs and pom poms in slow motion.  The two we watched weren’t quite in sync when they had their backs to each other but it doesn’t look easy.  Apparently the steps for the changing of the guard are carried out in slow motion to protect their circulation after standing motionless for an hour.

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Outside the Presidential Palace.

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It’s all in the timing.

Whenever we are in a city we like to seek out some green spaces between landmarks so we walked up through the National Gardens, created in the 1840’s, to bring us out to the Kallimámaro Stadium, site of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896.  We didn’t feel like we were in a city once through the entrance to the Gardens as it was so quiet amongst the trees with paths meandering here and there.

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Kallimámaro Stadium.

As the weather on the third day had improved we climbed up Lykavittós Hill for a view over the city.  There is a funicular railway to get you to the top but I didn’t tell Tim that.  It reaches 910ft above the city and is a favourite spot for people to view the city at night.  We had to make do with a day time view as we didn’t fancy climbing up in the icy temperatures at night.

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The view from Lykavittós Hill.

Dropping back down to the town we visited the Temple of Olympian Zeus and our three day mini break in Athens was complete.

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Temple of Olympian Zeus, the largest in Greece.  Only fifteen of the 104 columns remain, each 17m high.
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Toppled column.
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View from the Temple of Olympian Zeus towards Hadrian’s Arch and the Acropolis.

We celebrated with burger and chips at a small cafe in the Monastiráki district followed by a pint of Guinness at a nearby Irish bar.  It would have been the perfect end to our visit but Tim felt unwell halfway through his pint and had to trot to the gents to be sick.  He’d scraped off most of the dressing on his burger as he can’t abide creamy type dressings as they can make him ill. It seems whatever was in the dressing hadn’t agreed with him.  Either that or it was a reaction to paying €12 for two pints of Guinness!  I knew it was serious when I had to finish his pint.

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That’s not a smile it’s a grimace – €12 for two pints!  

He was not a well chappy and took to his bed as soon as we got back to the van.  I was stressing a bit that I might have to drive us out of Athens the following morning with a sick patient in the back but he woke up feeling much better and we left Athens at 7.30 am on Christmas Eve to avoid the traffic and headed for Ancient Corinth on the Peloponnese.

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They’re getting into the festive spirit in Piraeus.

καλά Χριστούγεννα!

 

A hop over to Evia…. .

Evia, also known as Euboea, is the second largest Greek island separated from the mainland by the sixty metre Euripus Strait.  We thought visiting Evia would be a fun way to hop, skip and jump across to Athens from Volos instead of the three hundred or so kilometre drive along the motorway on the mainland.  After an overnight stop in the little fishing port of Achilio we boarded the nine o’clock ferry at Glypha for the forty five minute ferry crossing to Agiokampos.

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Achillio.

 

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Leaving Glypha.

We parked up on the beach at  Pefki and after a walk got the chairs out for a spot of al fresco lunch.  Whilst munching our sandwiches we had some welcome visitors when a pod of dolphins swept across practically right in front of us.  We couldn’t believe how close in to the shore they were.  Lovely to see.  They disappeared, then reappeared for a second swim past before going off to pastures new.

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What a treat to see whilst having our lunch.

DSC05011 (1).JPGWe spent a few days trundling round the northern end of Evia at an average speed of about twenty five kph, stopping at beaches along the way.

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A walk from Krya Vrysi to Paralia Agias Annas.
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A very rickety bridge over some deep water!
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Our parking spot at Krya Vrysi.

It’s a mountainous, sparsely populated part of the island with a windy up and down main road which snakes through thousands of acres of pine forest.  We could smell the strong scent of pine resin when driving through a couple of the villages and saw plastic bags of the stuff piled up into large mounds.  Then we noticed all the plastic bags hanging from the tree trunks catching the sap dripping from open wounds on the trees where a large patch of bark had been removed.

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Pine resin being harvested (photo courtesy of google images).

Apparently  Northern Evia is the largest resin producing area in Greece and its main use is to give Retsina, the Greek white (or rosé) resonated wine its distinct flavour.

Evia is linked by two bridges to the mainland at Chalkida but we continued the fifteen or so kilometres to Eretria to stop for a couple of nights before getting the ferry back to the mainland.

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Our overnight stop at Eretria.
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On the ferry back to the mainland.
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Ollie’s roof seems to have a bad case of mange!  We haven’t really had the opportunity to get up to it to clean it this year.

Next up……….Athens.

Αποχαιρετισμός!

Continuing on in Chalkidiki…. .

It seems like ages since I last did a blog post as my usual weekly ramble was a bit different a couple of weeks ago.  I had intended to update the blog with another post on what we had been up to but then I thought ‘now come on Jane, don’t over stretch yourself’ so it never happened.  Then, of course, time went on and before I knew it another two weeks had evaporated into thin air.  In truth, I could faff all day with a blog post.  I procrastinate on what to say, which photos to choose, what to put in, what to leave out.  How other people knock out a blog post everyday is beyond me.  Writing to me is not a natural thing and being confronted with a blank page can set me off into a bit of a panic.  Hence, I’ll always find other things to do.  In fact, I’ve already made a cup of tea, as a distraction, half way through writing this first paragraph.  If anyone has any hints on how to overcome these tendencies then I’d love to hear them!

In a nutshell our last two three weeks have looked a bit like this:·

  • Number of historical sites visited – Nil
  • Number of bike rides – Four
  • Number of walks – A fair few
  • Number of idle days – Too embarrassing to say

We’ve been bimbling.  The Urban Dictionary defines bimbling as ‘to wander in a happy but slightly disengaged state, though with some harmless or ineffective intent’.  That kind of sums up nicely our last two three weeks.

We trundled around the Sithonia peninsular stopping for one or two nights at a time at beaches or harbours.  The roads were quiet and we’ve enjoyed parking up close to the sea as few people have been about and the resorts are mostly closed up for the winter.  It’s a beautiful under developed area perfect for beach walking, mooching about and watching the fishermen go about their day.

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A little cafe closed up for the winter in the tiny harbour at Fteroti on the Sithonia peninsular.
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I love the colourful traditional fishing boats.
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A boat building yard in Lerrisos.
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Lerissos.
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Figurehead on one of the boats in Lerissos.
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We stumbled across some traditional music in Lerissos.

Mount Athos, the highest point on Chalkidiki’s eastern most peninsular, is a no go area for regular folk like us.  Athos is an autonomous republic ruled by the 1700 monks living in its twenty monasteries dotted around the peninsular and is a unique area of Greece.  Strictly no females are allowed to visit and only adult males can visit by applying to the Pilgrim’s Bureau in Thessaloniki for a ‘Diamenterion’ (official permit).  We took a walk up to the perimeter fence just to see how cut off it really is.  There weren’t any rabid dogs patrolling up and down or anything but the signs weren’t particularly welcoming and as we didn’t really fancy being arrested we had to make do with a walk up the hill where we could just get a glimpse of one of the monasteries.

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The Monks say ‘NO’.

 

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Zoomed in view of one of the monasteries on Mount Athos.

………..and some pigs.

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Not wild boar this time.

Boat trips can be taken from Ouranoúpoli to see some of the monasteries from the water but they aren’t allowed to dock anywhere on Athos.

We moseyed up the coast as far as Olympiada, where we were accompanied for the night at the harbour by a Bulgarian van, before retreating back to Thessaloniki for a couple of nights.

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Colourful harbour wall at Stratoni.
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There’s gold in them there hills – well, not quite – you can see a silver, lead and zinc mine on the edge of Stratoni village.

We went back to the camper stop at Zampetas principally as it broke the journey up on our way further south and also because they have a coveted item there.  A washing machine.  Washing machines are like Hens Teeth in Greece so when you know where you are likely to be able to utilise one you seize the opportunity.   Once pitched up and settled in I stripped the bed, hoovered up every scrap of dirty washing, and skipped off with my bag of laundry to the machine.  Happy days.  Not quite.  The machine was broken.  Oh, the disappointment.  What a waste of a breezy sunny day if you can’t use it to dry your freshly laundered smalls.

The next option was to do some hand washing.  Nope.  Can’t be bovved.  I don’t mind doing cycling kit and underwear but I draw the line at hand washing bedding.  A quick internet search turned up two self service launderettes in the centre of Thessaloniki……..two bus rides away.  No matter, I was on a mission.  I wanted that laundry done and I wasn’t going to be deterred by a mere bus ride or two getting in my way.  The four hour round trip went without a hitch.  The second bus dropped us off a minutes walk from the launderette.  The brilliant huge drummed machine at €3 a wash took care of the whole bag of washing.  €3 for the drier and everything was turned around in less than ninety minutes.  The free internet at the launderette kept me entertained whilst Tim went off in search of a few music shops in the town.  He conveniently arrived back just as I was folding the last T-towel into the bag.  Two buses back and a quick pitstop at Lidl for a celebration doughnut and our mission was complete.

Our next stop was Volos, a thriving port city with a very pleasant seafront and the gateway to the Pelion peninsular.

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Our parking spot 7km outside Volos.
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Looking back towards Volos from the looooong breakwater.
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Art at the docks in Volos.
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Fishermen were tending to their nets at the quay in Volos as well as selling their catch – some still alive!

After a couple of nights just outside Volos, which we visited on the bikes, we moved round to the little village of Kato Gatzea.  We were looking forward to a couple of nights on a campsite.  We’d been in Greece over a month and we’d only seen one other British van so imagine our surprise when we were shown around the campsite by the owner to find that the three other vans on site were all British.  Like buses they are, like buses!

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Our camping spot at Camping Sikia on the Pelion peninsular.

Our neighbours, Mick and Janette, were on a similar trip to us.  They had also rented out their house and shed all their stuff to travel for an extended period so it was nice to swap a few stories.  The other couple, Grant and Janet, turned out to be from New Zealand and were travelling throughout Europe for three years and will return to NZ in 2019.  The other chap, Jim, was also on an extended tour staying on the campsite until the New Year.

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Monday afternoon drinks on the seafront?  Oh, why not!

We ended up staying six days on the site as we had a superb pitch overlooking the bay, the weather was great and it was nice not to have to drive for a while. I took to the bike to explore the very beautiful but very hilly peninsular whilst Tim took to the beach with his clarinet for a bit of al fresco practice.

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View towards Milies village.  

The hills in this area rise to over 1600 metres and much of the area is covered by dense woodland and produces apples, pears, peaches and olives.  My legs felt every one of those hills but with little traffic I had a couple of challenging but rewarding rides in the area taking in some of the mountain villages with far reaching views across the bay.

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Station at Milies – the 60cm narrow guage Pelion train which runs between Ano Lehonia and Milies, completed in 1903, is one of the narrowest in the world.  Alas it only runs in the summertime.

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One of the restored mansion houses in Vysitza.

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Afissos.

 

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One of the simple cafes along the seafront closed up for the winter.
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Little church outside the tiny hamlet of Lefokastro.
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Another traditional fishing boat laid up for the winter.

It is olive picking season and every second vehicle you see is an olive mobile (aka pick up truck).  All over this region we’ve seen them tooing and froing between the small olive processing plants that are dotted about.

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Olive processing plant.

 

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View of the sunset from the window on our last night at Camping Sikia.

We reluctantly left the campsite and headed south towards Glyfa where we could catch a ferry to Evvoia, the second largest Greek island after Crete.  The island is linked to the mainland by two main bridges but that would have meant a longer drive and wouldn’t be as much fun.

τα λέμε αργότερα!