A Moody Máni…. .

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

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

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

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

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

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Squeezing through Kotronas village.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The calm before the storm!

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

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

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

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

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Areopoli.
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The back streets of Areopoli.

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

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

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

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

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

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Kalamata Railway Park.

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

So I’ll end on that happy story:)

μέχρι την επόμενη φορά!

Biking and hiking on the Peloponnese…. .

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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Recycling in Leonidio.

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

 

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The harbour at Plaka.
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Working out in Plaka!

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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Inside the monastery with the little chapel at the end.

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

 

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It beats the draughty streets of  Bath.

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

 

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

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

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

 

Αντίο!

 

 

Metéora… .

I’m sure the drive from Ioánnina to Metéora is very scenic but we weren’t able to see much of it as it was a pea souper for most of the way.  We were mightily pleased we took the E90 motorway to get us two thirds of the way there as the original road would have been a twisty, windy up and down nightmare in the fog.  Numerous lengthy tunnels along the motorway confirmed we’d made the right decision and we were more than happy to pay the €6 toll.  The tolls in Greece are easy as it’s a human at a toll booth.  It would have cost us way more than that in extra diesel and stress taking the other road.  Fortunately by the time we’d come off the motorway to drive the last fifty kilometres or so the fog was coming and going in patches and there were plenty of places we could pull over to let the convoy of cars behind us get past.

Metéora features in the top ten sights to see in Greece attracting thousands of visitors a year.  I’d read about it from several other blogs and was hoping it would live up to my expectations.  Despite the poor weather and not being able to see them clearly the humungous sandstone rock formations towering above the towns of Kalambaka and Kastraki are quite imposing.  Driving through the two towns we wound our way up and up the road through the towers to a viewpoint five kilometres above the town. Arriving at our destination we sat looking at the greyness waiting for the weather to clear.  We’d had a glimpse here and there on the way up of what was to come but the fog/mist was still persistently hanging there obscuring our view.

The natural sandstone towers of Metéora, meaning ‘suspended rocks’, are pretty amazing just as they are but twinned with the monasteries perched right on top they are a wonder.  Hermits saught refuge in the rocks towards the end of the first millennium building small chapels for prayer.   However, the monk, Athanásios, from Mount Athos founded the first and largest monastery, Magálo Metéoro, on one of the pinnacles in the late 14th Century.  Another twenty three monasteries followed but just six are in operation now with others either uninhabited or deserted.

Sitting with a cup of tea looking out at the cars and coaches coming and going I felt very grateful that we had the time to sit out the weather and we hadn’t just got a short window of opportunity to see what we had come to see.  If that had been the case we would have had to leave very disappointed.  After a couple of hours of waiting there was a short interlude in the fog where I was able to jump out and grab a few photos and stand in awe of what was before me.

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Rousánou Monastery revealing itself through the fog.

 

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Vaárlam Monastery founded in 1518 is named after the first hermit to live on the rock in 1350.
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Vaárlam (left) and Magálo Metéoro (right).

It isn’t really known how the first hermits actually got to the top of the vertical rock faces but it is thought they hammered pegs into gaps in the rock and hauled their building materials to the top.  Other theories claim kites were flown over the tops carrying strings attached to thicker ropes which were made into the first rope ladders.  No mention is made of how many would have lost their lives in the building of the monasteries.  I suspect it was many but the H & S police wouldn’t have been invented then.

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The sandstone towers are a wonder in themselves.

It wasn’t until as late as the 1920’s that stone steps were hewn into the rocks to make them more accessible. They also now have a cable car going back and forth presumably as an easier way to get supplies across but there are pictures of monks travelling in them too.  Prior to that everything and everyone was winched up and down by hand in a rope basket.  Apparently the ropes were only replaced when they broke.  Mmm, a comforting thought.

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The rope basket.  Picture courtesy of Google images.
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The hand winch at Vaárlam.
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The cable car was toing and froing to Vaárlam with nothing in it!

We had hoped to stay a couple of nights at the campsite at Kalambaka, which is open all year, to do some washing and make use of the wifi but a sign on the gate said it was closed for repairs so we stayed in a quiet layby not far from Vaarlam Monastery.  Nobody bothered us and the police must have passed us as when we drove up to the viewpoint in the morning they were taking someone to task for using a drone for some filming.  There was a lot of form filling going on so it’s obviously a no no.

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You can just see ‘Ollie’ sitting in his viewpoint carpark below Vaárlam and Magálo Metéoro monasteries.

The six monasteries that are still operational are €3 each to enter so not expensive but there is some stair climbing involved to get to them.  I arrived at Vaarlam at 9.00 am when it opened and practically had the whole place to myself for forty five minutes.  Photos aren’t allowed inside so outside pictures only I’m afraid.  Skirts have to be worn by women but they conveniently provide very fetching stretchy wrap around floral curtains for the purpose.  It was the first time I’d worn a skirt in probably twenty years.  Nope, no photo.

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Picture taken from the winch tower of Vaárlam.
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The courtyard at Vaárlam.  I was lucky I had the whole place to myself.

After visiting Vaárlam I took a walk along the road which traverses the hillside giving epic views over the rocks and monasteries below.  Most people were driving and stopping at each viewpoint to take a photo but walking was by far the best way to take it all in.  Tim is currently on sick leave with another injury so he was back at the van putting his feet up!  I walked as far as Stéfános monastery but it was closed for lunch so I backtracked and had a look at Agia Triáda (Holy Trinity) which was very quiet.

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Agia Triáda (Holy Trinity) Monastery.

That might have been something to do with the one hundred and thirty steps to get up to it.  (I didn’t count them, I took that from Wikipedia)!  Agia Triáda featured in the 1981 James Bond film ‘For Your Eyes Only’.

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Some of the 130 steps.

An hours walk on a footpath leading down the hill from Agia Triáda took me across country through the rocks and brought me out to the road below Rousánou monastery.

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The approach road to Rousánou where my walk brought me out.  Note the much better weather on day 2!

The following day I took off on my own again with the intention of visiting Magálo Metéoro monastery followed by another walk but when a tour bus overtook me just as I reached the top of the hill I decided to give it a miss and just do the walk.  Maps.Me came to my aid again showing me an unmarked footpath leading to what I thought would be a ruin but was in fact the restored Ypapanti monastery, which is currently uninhabited, suspended halfway up a rockface.

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View across to Ypapanti monastery.  Now no longer inhabited.
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Close up of Ypapanti Monastery.

What a treat that was.  I’d never have found it without my trusty Maps.Me app.  I had the most fabulous three hour walk through woods and open countryside passing another two churches.

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Views across the surrounding countryside.

Metéora then met our expectations and we thoroughly enjoyed our few days there.  Tim expects to be back to fighting fitness again in the next week but I think he is secretly enjoying his respite from me whilst I go out on my own!

καληνυχτα!

 

 

 

Our first foray into Greece…. .

It was fortunate that I’d read the Wanderlings blog on their experience of getting a ferry to Greece from Brindisi.  It wasn’t a surprise, then, when we turned up at the port to find hundreds of Bulgarian plated lorries parked up in the waiting bays.

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Spot the odd one out.

Learning from our Dubrovnik experience I trotted off to the Grimaldi lines check in desk to get our boarding passes.  Whilst waiting for the booth to open up I stoically endured the up and down stares of the fifty or so lorry drivers also waiting to check in.  They weren’t unfriendly up and downers just curious.  We were to be just one of two motorhomes on the ferry.  The rest was freight with the odd car thrown in.

Again, it was an interesting loading procedure.  Or I should say there was no loading procedure.  Without any lanes painted up on the tarmac all the lorries jostled for position spreading themselves six or seven abreast with no apparent order.  The poor little man checking boarding passes was running to and fro between them trying not to get flattened.  The drivers, all with cigarettes clamped firmly between their teeth and presumably well versed in this system, showed no mercy.  One or two beeped their horns shouting and gesticulating if they thought that someone else had jumped the queue in front of them.  Fortunately for us we’d been directed to wait on the left hand side and just watched them all fight it out between themselves.

The loading itself involved some going on forwards and some backwards.  Our turn came and we were relieved to be pointing forwards although we did have to go up a ramp to a different deck.  Once up on the deck the lorries in front were directed to do a U-turn and reverse into their spaces.  We had to turn around and parallel park into a space between two other vans.  At least it was a reasonable sized space and we weren’t packed in as tight this time.

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Safely parked up on the upper deck.

On board the facilities were more functional than fancy and none too clean.  Let’s just say it’s the kind of place you want to wipe your feet on the way out.  If you can get them unstuck from the floor that is.  Docking in Igoumenitsa in the late evening we parked up in the well lit car park at the port and went straight to bed.  No night driving in a new country for us.

The following morning a regroup and a day of planning was called for which required good internet access so we drove the six kilometres or so to Camping Drepanos around the bay from the port.  After twenty four hours of reading, researching and general acclimatising we had a loose plan and we were ready to hit Greece.

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Yay, Greece is now on the map.

After a stock up at Lidl where we found Cheddar Cheese, Chocolate Digestives and Ring Doughnuts (with proper sugar on them) we headed east on the E90 towards Ioannina.  We are using several sources for overnight stops which can be found here, here, here and here. Greece doesn’t really do ‘aires’ and there aren’t too many campsites open at this time of year so these resources, along with some other blogs are proving to be super useful.  Thank you to all of you for sharing your info.

Our loose plan whilst in Greece is to travel across the country inland from West to East then follow the coast in a clockwise direction with a few forays inland finishing up in either Patras or back in Igoumenitsa for a return ferry to Italy sometime in the near or distant future depending on how we get on.

We stopped over night at Ioánnina on our way to the Vikos Gorge.  Ioánnina, set beside the Pamvotida Lake, is the capital of the Epirus region and on first impressions seems to be just a long sprawl of built up urban chaos albeit set in beautiful mountainous countryside.   Parking four kilometres outside the town we walked in and explored the fortress area which dates back to the 13th Century but  was rebuilt in 1815 by Ali Pasha, the Albanian Muslim tyrant.

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Ali Pasha Mosque and tomb.  

It was certainly quieter inside the walls of the fortress which was a welcome relief after the walk in along busy roads.  Outside the walls of the fortress we sauntered around a really lively area with an eclectic mix of small businesses and cafes.  Many buildings were empty or semi derelict but the place had a real buzz to it.

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Downtown Ioannina.
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Lots of little cafes and small businesses in this area…..
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….also lots now closed down.

What we’d really come to this area for though was to see the Vikos Gorge.  With limestone walls rising to over 900 metres the gorge cuts through the Vikos-Aöös National Park.

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The gorge is quite simply spectacular.  We drove through the village of Menodendri up to the view point at Oxia.  All I can say is if you have any children or dogs with you then hang on to them as, apart from one small piece of manmade wall, it’s a sheer drop to the bottom of the gorge from the path.

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Vikos Gorge taken from the Oxia viewpoint above Menodreni village.
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Not a good place to be if you are afraid of heights.

We stayed a couple of days just outside the village of Monodendri as we wanted to walk part of the 03 Greek National Trail which tracks its way through the bottom of the gorge towards Mikró Pàpigko.  There wasn’t time to walk the length of the gorge as it is a six to seven hour walk one way but we did do part of it.

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On the 03 National Trail through the Vikos Gorge.

On the way back towards Monodreni village we found another fantastic viewpoint across the gorge with a birds eye view of the little monastery clinging to the rock face which we’d visited the day before.

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Another spectacular viewpoint not far from Menodreni village.  You can just see a little monastery perched on the rocks.
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Menodreni village.

Dropping back down to Ioannina we stopped for the night at the little hillside village of Lingiades overlooking the lake before heading off to Metéora.

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Our Camper Stop at Lingiades made available by the municipality as an official site for camper vans.

αντιο σας!

 

Down the Dalmatian coast…. .

Ok.  So.  I’m sitting writing this blog post from the quiet comfort of the library in Harrogate, UK.  Tim is currently ‘home alone’ or maybe I should say ‘van alone’ back in Croatia.  Oh don’t worry, he has a list of chores.  I flew into Leeds Bradford airport on the tail end of Storm Brian last Saturday.  To say it was a bumpy landing is an under statement.  After one aborted landing and a circle around a bit we came in for a second go.  I think it is fair to say the atmosphere on the plane was somewhat tense.  Cheering and clapping commenced as soon as the rubber hit the asphalt.  I don’t think we were quite out of the woods at that point but it did break the tension.   I’ve got to give it to these pilots, trying to tame a bucking Boeing 73 something or other in winds gusting at 40+ mph must be no mean feat.  They deserve whatever they are paid.   End of.

Anyways, meanwhile back on the coast of Croatia last week……….

Leaving Plitvice Lakes National Park we headed back down to the coast taking the A1 toll road to get us through the Velebit mountains.  Oh yes, we’d done our homework this time on how the toll system works in Croatia.  Pay a human at a toll booth.  Simples.  We’d learnt from our past mistake.  Right decision.  Several tunnels, including Sveti Rok tunnel at five kilometres long, convinced us that the alternative route would have been d.i.v.o.r.c.e. inducing.

Pitched up back on the coast at a smallish campsite at Tribanj Šibuljna some more walking was to be had.  And swimming (that’ll be me not Tim, he prefers terra tarmac).

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Campsite at Tribanj Šibuljna .

The weather was superb, the campsite quiet and a footpath across the road led us up and up (and up) into the Paklenica National Park.  The cloud was still hanging low across the sea towards Pag island.  The views were phenom.

 

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Climbing above the cloud.  The sea and Pag island are out there somewhere.
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After another hour of climbing the sea and Pag island in the distance were revealed.
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Sunset over Pag island.

Pag island, from a distance, looks like a giant pumice stone.  Just bleak and barren.  Twenty four thousand sheep call it home.  As do eight thousand people. The sheep support themselves mostly from sage which carpets the eastern side of the island.  The people support themselves from the cheese provided by the sheep.  That and tourism, clubbing and olives.  Novalja, one of the main settlements on Pag is said to be the ‘prime venue for Adriatic clubbing’.  I presume it’s not the stone age kind of clubbing.

 

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Pag sheep.

Judging by the size of Šimuni campsite where we stayed for a couple of nights the island must be rammed with people in the height of the summer.  I say campsite but it was more a camping village with restaurants, bars, supermarket, holiday homes, private beach and shower blocks that wouldn’t look out of place in a boutique hotel.  Just enorm.   Out of season with our ACSI card it was about £16 per night and exceedingly quiet.  A bargain.

 

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Our pitch on Pag at Šimuni camping.

The coast of Croatia seems to close by the second week in October.  That suits us but wouldn’t suit everyone.

 

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Walking the lunar landscape of Pag towards Sveti Vid peak.
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Views from Sveti Vid.
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Looking down on Pag town.
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Stone stacks on the beach around the coast from the campsite.

Onwards then to Split.

P1090936.JPGWe took the toll road again.  Can’t get enough of them now!  The drive through the outskirts of Split on the D1 is all downhill and pretty dramatic.  Yes it’s exceedingly busy and a culture shock after having tootled about at a leisurely pace for a week or two but the views made up for that.  Backed by an ominous grey wall of mountains, the D1 sweeps down past little hillside settlements and Klis Fortress, a medieval castle teetering on a rock above the city.  We installed ourselves at Camping Stobreč, seven kilometres outside the city.  That is where Tim is now, you know, quietly working his way through his list.

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Camping Stobrec.

Before I left for my little sojourn back in blighty we took the bus into Split from just outside the campsite.  Split and around is one of the most urbanized areas of the Adriatic coast.  As with all urbanised areas some of it is pretty grim but the overall situation of the city with the mountainous backdrop is very agreeable.  It’s a lively place even at this time of year with its bustling markets, seafront cafes, ferries, boats and marinas.

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One of the markets in Split.
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The seafront in Split.

The piece de resistance of Split, for me at least, is its warren of alleys hidden away behind the remains of Diocletian’s Palace. Built in 295 AD by the Roman Emperor Diocletian as a retirement home, measuring 200m by 240m, with a fortified keep and four towers, it must have been quite the des res.  Over the ensuing years after Diocletian’s successors had departed it was gradually, over time, remodelled into a labyrinth of houses, tenements, churches and chapels.  It really is fascinating with so many nooks and crannies to explore.  Boutique shops, little cafes and restaurants sit cheek by jowl with apartments airing the days washing.

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Apartments within the old walls of Diocletians palace.
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Washing day.
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More washing within the walls.
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Busy alleyways…..
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……and not so busy alleyways.

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Diocletian’s Palace.

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We loved it.

Zbogom!

 

Plitvice Lakes National Park…. .

A detour from the coast.  This will be a short post as I will let the pictures speak for themselves.  You don’t need me going on yada yada yada to see that the Plitvice Lakes National Park is quite something.  It is the single most visited natural attraction in Croatia.  Sixteen lakes strung out over eight kilometres with a series of waterfalls and cataracts connecting them.  It’s a pay to go in affair and needless to say can be very busy, especially along the boardwalk areas.

The pictures are courtesy of Tim’s camera.  My camera opened and snapped shut again on the first picture of the day.  Battery dead.  Tim’s words to me at breakfast that morning were ‘have you checked that your camera is charged’?  My reply ‘I had it on charge yesterday’.  Did I check it had charged though?  No.  Another lesson.  I am soooo rubbish with technology.

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This is the scene that greets you on entry to the Park from Entrance 1.  You can see the line of people on the boardwalk in the sunlight to the left of the picture.

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Quite a few people in the ‘must see’ bits of the Park.
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The water is so clear.
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October is a good time to visit for the autumnal colours.

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A series of boardwalks guide you through parts of the Park.
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The trails away from the boardwalks were very quiet.
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The views from above the lakes were superb.
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You can see the boardwalk beneath the falls.

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Back down at lake level on a boardwalk.

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Back towards Entrance 1 in the afternoon was much quieter than it had been in the morning.

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October is certainly a good time to visit as it is less busy, still warm and the colours of the trees are striking.

Bok!

 

 

 

Cracking Croatia…. .

Krk is the largest of Croatia’s islands and apparently the most developed.  It is linked to the mainland by what our guide book describes as ‘a dramatically arcing bridge’.  We had to take the guidebooks word on that as we’d arrived in the pitch black after our little detour over Mount Učka avoiding what we had thought was a toll road.

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Just around the coast from Njivice, Krk island.

The first thing that struck us about Krk, and much of the rest of Croatia we had seen, was how hilly it is.  In the years leading up to our trip I would come home from work, slump onto the settee with a cup of tea, and binge on repeat episodes of ‘A Place in the Sun’.  Not one of those episodes that featured Croatia do I remember it looking lumpy.  It is hilly, rocky and steep though.  At least on the coast.  And all the more appealing for it.

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A Lidl taste of home found in, er, Lidl just outside Krk town.

I think October is a great time to be here.  The weather has been superb, the sea water is crystal clear, the campsites are very quiet, the traffic has been light and some of the small seaside towns are still quite lively.  For us it’s perfect.

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Mmm, interesting technique!
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Sunset at the beach just outside the campsite at Njivice.

It’s a walkers paradise with trails leading up into the hills directly from the coast.  We were spoilt for choice from the campsite at Baška, a beautiful seaside resort on the southern end of Krk.

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Baška
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The view above Baška.
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So many routes it’s difficult to choose.

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Blue is obviously ‘the’ colour for sheep this year.
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All the trails have been well marked.
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View towards the southern tip of Krk and the islands beyond.

The views from the Obzovo peak towards the other islands of Cres and Rab were fantastic.

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Excellent free map given to us at the campsite at Baška which, unusually for a free one, showed the contour lines.

Back on the mainland again we pitched up at Camp Selce just outside the seaside resort of Crikvenica.  A perfect spot for some more swimming and hiking.

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The water may be crystal clear but it is cold.
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Our pitch at Camp Selce just outside Crikvenica.

A trail out of the town took us up to the peak at Drenin with more spectacular views.

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On the top of Drenin peak looking towards Rijeka (Krk island to the left).

 

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Wonderful walks and views direct from the campsite.

We had high hopes for our stay in Croatia and, so far, it hasn’t disappointed.

Laku noć!