Moving on time, South via Olympia so back onto the National road network. Whoever was in charge of the road naming here on the Peloponnese is never going to win an award for the most imaginative identification system. The main road is called ‘The New National Road’, in places its predecessor is still the route to take and is called ‘The Old National Road’ and at the point heading South when neither of these roads exist you are on the ‘The National Road’. We took the the ‘New’ one in the direction of Olympia. It’s a single carriageway, its wide, its fairly quiet but it is as rough as the proverbial bears in places. The Greeks are now talking of building another main road as these three are outdated – hopefully someone will have the light bulb moment and not name it the Newer New National Road.
Not sure what we really expected of Olympia – but to be quite frank it blew us away. Neither of us are really fans of archaeological type stuff, a few holes in the ground and something telling us that Peter the Shoemaker had his shop and living room there does not do it for us, Olympia is way beyond that. It cost us €6 each to get in, then we were are allowed to walk around it pretty much everywhere, not from 10 ft away behind a fence mind you, actually walk in and around pretty much all of it. There are are some ropes around to stop you walking on a few of the fragile bits but they do not stop you walking through temples or going into a 2200 year old buildings. Someone from Stonehenge needs to visit Olympia and see how its done, get rid of the fences, let people near to what they are paying to see, let people touch history and stop charging an arm and a leg to visit and it could be as an amazing experience as Olympia.
The Greeks have so got it right, you walk right across the Temple of Hera, you can touch columns that once held up the roofs of the great monuments of the ancient world. We walked through the arch where the athletes entered the stadium, well I did a little run and waved my arms Mo Farrah style, the guide just looked as if he had seen it all before, whilst Iain just walked the other way! Those that want to can even run the 600 metres around the stadium (no neither of us felt the need to go that over the top). We stood at the spot where the first torch flames of each modern Olympic Games begins its life – although the Vestal Virgins were notable by their absence. For sure visiting out of the main tourist season had a major impact of how much we saw and how much we enjoyed it, just us and maybe twenty other people on a very warm blue skies day made it one of the best days out we have had on the trip so far.
Now it has to be said that the site is obviously a major tourist draw, so much so that just a few hundred metres outside a whole town has grown up. Its a very modern town and its very dedicated to tourists. Every shop is geared to sell you a souvenir, these range from €2 tacky fridge magnets (oh yes of course I bought one), to €500 copies of jewellery excavated at the site, to €2000 copies of sculptures. A myriad of eateries and hotels, lots of open air spaces and a couple of museums such as the fairly new Archimedes museum (free and worth a look) mean you could spend a day just wandering around the town.
The Crypt – entrance to the stadium built in 3rd c, BC
The Temple of Zeus approx 470 BC
Ancient Olympia – The Atlis 10th-9th C BC devoted to Zeus
The Prytaneion – home of the fire that was never extinguised 5th c BC
the Palaestra 3rd c BC – training facility for jumping, boxing and wrestling
I did some homework on where to stay and my research showed two campsites were open. We went to the first, Camping Olympia, where the owner was on his way out and cheerfully told us he was closed! Next was Camping Diana, clearly built around the time of the original Olympics to house athletes motorhomes (its a wee bit old). We were squeezed in just outside the owners house as she was worried we wouldn’t get out of the lower pitches. To be fair we would have, but anything much bigger than us might struggle a bit. She pointed out the water might be cold, and ran a tap in the loos to demonstrate, at which point no water came out – so she said it must be really cold then as we have no water! It was sunny but a bit chilly, heaven knows why she had no water but not sure the weather had anything to do with it but the again our Greek is not up to querying that sort of thing. Both the owners were gorgeous, a lovely old couple who really wanted to help and do all they could to make it a pleasant stay – that included relieving us of a whacking €22 for a night. Even if there isn’t any water there isn’t going to be a reduction in price, there isn’t another campsite anywhere within a couple of hours so we paid up and spent an ok night on the drive.
All the way down the coast the ‘National’ road group is single carriageway and flanked either side by olive groves. It is said the twelve olive trees keep a family in olive oil for a year, this area must keep the whole of Greece in oil then as for mile after mile all we saw were olive groves. There is very little other industry until the far South when some tourist areas start to appear, we were driving through a small village and suddenly there were coaches everywhere. It was hard to work out why as it just looked like your average town with some gift shops, it may have been one of the towns where the cruise ships dock for Olympia but there was a lack of signs and to be honest we are severely lacking in the maps department. Our atlas is shocking for Greece, one square covers pretty much most of The Peloponnese, which makes it pretty difficult to follow where we might be. We have splashed out on a map from the Shell garage, they had big windows and saw the daft Brits coming. It looked like a great map from the outside cover with even the odd English word on it, when we opened it up its all bloody hieroglyphics! We are now using a mix of the two and relying heavily on the Sat Nav which generally freaks out and refuses to believe half the places we want to input exist, it all adds to the general unplanned feeling we have most days so we are now becoming used to it.
The further South we went the less traffic and people we saw, we pulled off for lunch at Navarinou Bay, a deep notch in the coast closed in by the long thin island of Sfaktiria, which in turn has small gaps that allow boats to pass through. We walked along the spit of sand that passes along one side of the bay and on the other side is a nature reserve and lagoon. One solitary swimmer, two fishermen and not another soul to be seen in over an hour. The distance between Sfaktiria and the mainland at the North End is 220 ft, I had read the water is only 18 inches deep all the way across but we didn’t risk it just in case, we made do with paddle up to our knees instead :).
Just up from Navarinou Bay is the resort town of Pilos (Pylos), our first full on Greek holiday resort town where many peoples and cars were suddenly around. No high rise holiday hotels, more villas and apartments with a beautiful harbour, numerous tavernas dotted around the harbour and the town square and plenty of tourist shops. Considering how quiet the whole trip down the coast was it was surprising to see so many people in Pilos, mostly just sat around in cafes enjoying the sunshine, not heaving by any means but busy enough to warrant the shops and cafes all being open. Still not quite Mama Mia territory but coming closer. Or it could just be that all the sunshine was making everything feel a little bit more we expected a Greek holiday resort to be. And for the last few days it hasn’t just been seeing the sun – there has been warmth, the sun is finally doing its job and at times it’s actually been hot enough to think we might be in Greece!
For the first time since we left home we are now facing choices in which campsite we use. There are plenty of sites open and on the stretch of beach we on at Finikoudas there are three open sites within 1 km. We chose Camping Finikes for no reason other than it was the first one, it is a good site where we have our own little private shower and toilet, we are just a few metres from the sea, there is a sun canopy over our pitch and pretty much everything we need for the next few days is within reasonable walking distance.
Nearly as importantly there are other people in motorhomes here 🙂 we were beginning to think we were the only ones on the Peloponnese. In two weeks since we saw the first couple of vans at Ionion Beach, we have not seen any others, never passed one on the roads, or even seen one at Lidl. Here there is a mixed bunch of nationalities and vehicles, a couple caravans from Hungary and Germany, motorhomes from Holland, Germany, France, Czech Republic, Italy and GB and a massive Fifth Wheel from Germany. Gosh its been good to speak to someone other than each other! It’s day 70 and there have been very few days that, other than each other, we have spoken to anyone other than shop assistants or campsite receptionists. These are real people here and we have had real conversations, our French neighbours have been giving us tips for the Scandinavian part of our journey as they were up there last summer, our British neighbours are doing a great job at selling Turkey and giving us routes and places to stay, off our intended route but worth considering. The German couple with the Fifth Wheel bought it from North Wales last year and were staying a couple of miles from our house when they were there. As always, every nationality happily converses in English which makes us feel lazy – I have stunned some of the neighbours with my limited German, so much so they respond and continued the conversation in English.
Its been what can only be described at fairly hot for the last three days, we kid you not we have been on the beach, sunbathed outside the van and shorts and t shirts are now the most suitable attire. Today it was 18/ 65 degrees, people on the site were in the sea swimming, we weren’t before anyone asks. Iain is taking this dip in the sea thing a bit too literally and just dipping a leg in now, as it becomes warmer he is venturing in further each time so at this rate he should be swimming by Easter. We have a bit of rain forecast for one day next week but other than that its steady sunshine for the foreseeable future so our plan is to plan nothing and as long as the sun shines we may well stay where we are.
Not much housework going on here today then
Iain’s view of the Greek Highway Code below 🙂