Monday morning dawned with a little sunshine breaking through the clouds, and a smattering of snow covering the hills behind the campsite. To be fair though it wasn’t as cold as we had been warned but none the less it had snowed in Greece against all our expectations, surely not enough to bother us though? We said our cheerios and were away reasonably handy for the latest dental adventure / appointment. Iain arrived for his appointment at 11am, to be told she would be at least 40 minutes late. He finally finished at 1.45pm, paid the bill and lovely dentist lady told him he needs to have a crown down when we are home as this repair will last 9 months. We know not what she is on about or what she has done, suffice to say we were released from Githio and back on the road at last.
Pretty spectacular snowy scene in Greece
First stop Skala, the usual reason for stopping at a five donkey town, there is a Lidl. We probably do need to start shopping elsewhere, we buy the same things every two weeks, we are not living on the edge of a Greek culinary experience out here at all. More so its meatballs, ham and as much rice and vegetables as we can carry, we did try Kangaroo steaks last week, no not very Greek but the best we could do on variation (by the way, do not try it unless you are an Aussie who knows what to do with them, instructions were in Greek and I may have overdone them by several hours, it was akin to eating my shoes). We do both want to try goat as yet we haven’t found it for sale anywhere, including local butchers. We thought everything was goat in Greece but even in cafes it seems its more pork and yet we haven’t seen a single pig here. Even the lonely goat herders, who we see daily tend to be more of the sheep variety.
From Skala it was time for the last peninsula, or the third Peloponnese finger. We had been warned at the campsite its very quiet, not many shops, no campsites. We filled and emptied all the bits of the van you need to do that to, packed away the shopping and stuck a pen on the map to see where we should go first. We took the route down the smaller roads and other than fruit lorries there wasn’t too much traffic about. We managed to get stuck behind this chap for a while, my concern was we were going to end up with quite a lot of his possessions stuck on our windscreen if he hit a pothole. Iain is now becoming very Greek in his driving – a toot of his horn and Mr Overloaded pulled in slightly and we were around him and clear.
First stop was the village of Elia, typical of most small harbour villages with a mix of very old and very modern houses and villas built around a bay with a small harbour at one end. We aimed for the harbour thinking we would stay overnight, as we rounded the corner we saw a very suitable parking space – just it was already full with three largish motorhomes. Luckily for us Mr Belgium motorhomer came out and told us he would move over so we could squeeze in, he proceeded to explain how he has only been seeing and speaking to Germans for days so it was good to see English people and speak to English people. Everyone always say English and its way to complex to explain Iain is not English and then explain Wales as by then people are glazing over. We have done the whole Welsh St David’s cross flag thing, even a Norwegian asked if it was his national flag. Anyway, we squeezed in and settle down, Iain recovered from the pain and expense and in the morning we awoke to this view from our windscreen. Not bad is it? I do not think we will ever get used to the villages, harbours and views here. A chap in a car stopped and asked, in the very best of Oxford type accents, were we ok. He said he noted our British registration and as he lives here but is a Brit he wanted to check we were ok – people are kind where ever we are and its something we don’t want to forget.
We followed the coast down to Nouvra, where the ferry departs from to the island of Elafonissos. The pier is at the end of a lovely sandy beach just a few hundred metres from the village. A tiny passenger only ferry was bobbing around in the gales and the car ferry plied its way backwards and forwards with a few cars each time. We took the cheap way out and had a look at the island through binoculars – it was close enough to see that nothing much was open so we decided against the trip over (the very choppy seas also played a part in influencing decisions).
Nouvra – the best sandy beach so far
Next stop was Neapoli Vion, we were expecting more of the same in terms of quaint and quiet villages. Culture shock time, a fairly large town, very busy, plenty of shops and people and a harbour with over fifteen ocean going vessels, from cruise to container ships, moored up. Not sure why the ships moor there, could be safe harbours in high winds or could be waiting for tides to Piraeaus. There is a road running right along the bay lined with restaurants and shops on one side and a promenade on the other. It felt like we had arrived in another country, it was busy, people were out walking, there were more cars than a Sunday boot fair back home, all in all it felt like somewhere people live and work rather than a holiday destination. Being as contrary as we are it actually felt like to many people, we were suddenly having to make choices on where to park, would we be in anyone’ way, was the van safe, all the questions we haven’t really had to consider since we arrived in Greece.
On the map we saw that on the opposite side of the peninsula there was a wildlife refuge, it sounded somewhere quiet and more us so we took the road out of town and it climbed steadily. We appeared to be heading over the mountain, rather than around it, but obviously the road was going to go around soon. The winds were still very strong, the road was becoming narrower and we were just managing the hairpins bends in one turn. It has to be said that the views were absolutely worth the sheer terror or driving a high sided box over a mountain pass in force 8. Not worth it enough to go down the other side and repeat the whole experience, we turned around at the top (777 metres / 2000 ft) and made our way gingerly back down to Neapoli and then ambled up the coast, around a few wrong slots, reversed out of the odd village (all as you do if you don’t have a decent map!!).
We eventually arrived at Monemvasia, known as the Gibraltar of Greece, we thinks that more to do with being built on a rock that the Spanish and British fighting over it. We arrived with those gales still in full force, as we crossed the causeway the waves were flooding across in front of us. As we arrived at what appeared to be a very large rock with a few houses on the side facing the mainland, a small petrol station (for an island without roads??) and some fortification on the top we were not excited enough to brave the cold, so deciding to hold off our visit until the next morning where sunshine was forecast we found a spot to park up on the harbour back in New Monemvasia. We aimed to have a little protection from the buffeting winds overnight. Little was the right word, a fairly sleepless night where no matter how much you know a 3.5 tonne motorhome isn’t going to blow over, every gust that just seems to tip you then release you back makes you hold your breathe for what seems like an age.
Our first site of the Rock
looking back to new town
Next morning and the sun was out in force, still hand in hand with the gales. Whilst we may have been ever so slightly underwhelmed when we arrived the previous day, after going through the gates we suddenly realised what all the fuss was about. Why isn’t this place at the top of every must see village list in the world? Looking up from the sea there are row upon row of stone built houses climbing up the side of the rock. Monemvasia has been owned / fought over by pretty much everyone in the region at sometime or other, The Byzantines founded it, the Franks seized it then lost it, The Catholic Church held it for a few years before the Venetians took over, followed by the Turks who finally lost it in the war of independence when the Greeks finally took it back.
Kastro lower town
The Kastro Monemvasia is divided into a lower and an upper town. The lower town originally contained 800 houses, many of the ruins are there as are four of the original forty churches. A large majority of the properties have been restored with several now hotels, guest houses or restaurants. We walked to the hotel at the top of lower town, not sure I would want to carry my suitcases or indeed find my way back after an evening out, however I cannot think of anywhere with a more stunning view. The terrace looked out over the lower town and down to the sea, as there are no roads there was no traffic noise at all, just the sounds of the waves crashing (and us moaning about the amount of steps!). We were unable to visit upper town as it was closed off for restoration work. From the bottom we could see the castle walls that protect the town on the summit but alas we couldn’t visit.
more lower town
even more stunning with the sun out
best shower we have found so far
If the old town wasn’t enough for us the the new town certainly isn’t too shabby in relation to its older neighbour. Plenty of bars and cafes, a few tourist shops and of course some good old fashioned bakers for Iain to buy his daily sugar fix. There is an outer and inner harbour, where despite the crashing waves several colourful little boats were moored up and bobbing furiously around.
New Monemvasia habour
Our next destination was planned to be Leonidio, as the crow flies just a short hop but a few choices of which mountain pass to take. At some point in the afternoon driver, navigator and Sat Nav got themselves in a tissy and we ended up in the usual small village, not wide enough for a twin buggy let along a motorhome. After what might be termed a ‘bit of a todo’ on who was in charge of directions we resumed our journey using the main road, I had voted as the best route, so we could stop and see the Elonis Monastery and follow the switch back roads that we had read about when the Wanderlings came over that route the previous week. As we climbed gently up past Geraki we were surprised to find we were in the snow line, we continued and when we reached 3000 ft we were so in the snow line that the road disappeared as we turned a corner. It was there, then turn the steering wheel and just white stretching ahead.
The plan became a bit unclear! Carrying on seemed foolish as we could see there was still one hell of a climb to the top of the mountain, turning around was out of the question as the snow was built up good and hard each side and left the width of a car between. Nothing else for it then, we reversed back down the mountain, it could sound worse than it was – oh no it couldn’t it was horrendous, a bit of armaco would have helped, not a thing. After a mile or so in reverse we felt confident enough to try a three point turn, with me outside in charge of keeping the van out of the drifts at the rear. Back down out of the snow and we are now considering how to get to Leonidio without using the snow roads, it could be a long trip but hopefully it will one hell of a lot less stressful.