The sunshine has found the Pelopennese – yay

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 The Greeks are now talking of building another main road as these three are outdated – hopefully someone will have the light bulb moment and not name it the Newer New National Road.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.

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The Crypt – entrance to the stadium built in 3rd c, BC

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The Temple of Zeus approx 470 BC

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Ancient Olympia – The Atlis 10th-9th C BC devoted to Zeus

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The Prytaneion – home of the fire that was never extinguised 5th c BC

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the Palaestra 3rd c BC – training facility for jumping, boxing and wrestling

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the Stadium

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 :).

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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!

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Pilos (Pylos)

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.

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Not much housework going on here today then

Iain’s view of the Greek Highway Code below  🙂

Highway

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the one were we finally meet a Stavros

Monday morning the weather man was predicting rain again, but as nothing had come from his predictions on Sunday we ignored it and went to plan B for the Roman bath search. This time we took the bikes and headed off down the same lanes, once we got to Arkoudi this time we carried on and low and behold just a mile or so down the road we were there. Was it worth two days to hunt it out? well maybe not, a very run down looking building, the actual baths fenced off and the smell of sulphur was as it always is – worse than rotten eggs. We persevered and had a wander round but there isn’t too much too see, it would seem that once upon a time it was a tourist attraction but its not been loved for some time. It’s hard to say whether the austerity measures have affected the maintenance or its just not somewhere people want to go, a shame as with a spruce up and a clean it could be an interesting and pleasant place to visit. Iain was fascinated by watching the sulphur bubble up to the surface but for me it was too much of a smell to stay around.

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Killini Roman Baths

Next stop was to try the thermal mud baths as we thought we might treat ourselves, they were locked up and not a soul around. It looked like a big complex, several buildings which were mainly concrete looking eyesores but one lovely church just on the edge. There is a big hotel complex just outside the baths so we assumed its a seasonal thing and we missed out on a mud bath by a few months. Trying to find anything out about either the baths or the spa seems pretty impossible, tourist literature is not something that abounds here and even the internet seems vague, one report says it has never been used and another says 5000 people come a year to use the mud baths. 

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the only building not poured from concrete at Killini spa baths

Back to Akoudi for our picnic on the beach, our very own beach as we were the only people there for the hour we sat and ate. It is a little tourist hamlet, several small family run hotels, a shop or two, tavernas onto beach but not a one open. The locals who must run the businesses are milling around but it seemed like maintenance time as much cleaning, painting and repairing was going on. Its the only real tourist place we have seen so far, not sure it would be classed a resort but sure it would be a fantastic place for a quiet holiday in the summer months. A local was telling us that its very much an area for Greeks on holiday even in summer very few other nationalities come here.

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Picnic time

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Our own private beach for lunch

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Stopping short of pedaling to Zakynthos over the water

On Tuesday it was Epiphany, as with most of Europe celebrated with a holiday, shops were closed but the tavernas in the village were open. Each time we have been in the village in the morning the sound of the Orthodox Priest singing has resounded around the village from the small church. It’s a very beautiful accompaniment to the village which looks as if nothing much as changed for many, many years.

As we walked through we were approached by three young boys, all under 11, who were playing basketball. In near perfect English they asked if we knew how to play the game and then asked if we were on our way to visit the church. Considering very few English apparently come this way the children here still obviously learn to speak English from a young age and do so incredibly well and use it confidently. It was time to sample our first Greek coffee so we headed for the busiest looking taverna. As we approached we were stopped outside by a table of three who insisted we join them for a holiday drink (achieved by much arm waving, gesturing and dragging of chairs). Whilst they were mixing wine with coke, water and some form of firewater we stuck to our choice of coffee. We then spent the next 40 minutes in bizarre ‘conversation’ with Stavros (no really he was) who only spoke Greek to Irinia, who spoke Greek and then German to Eddie, who spoke German and then English to us. They had obviously been at the drink for a good few hours before we arrived so conversation was somewhat diverse but probably the most entertaining interaction we have yet to have with any nationality.  Stavros was as someone with that name should be for a Brit with a stereotypical view of meeting a Greek villager – a more charming, friendly and loud chap we would find it harder to meet.

Today we finally got around to visiting Chlemoutsi castle, which is visible from miles around and we have been saying we would visit since the day we arrived. It was built in the early 1220’s and is said to be the finest castle of the period, largely preserved in its original 13th-century state. Captured in 1460 by the Ottoman Empire it lost importance over the next couple of hundred years and was deserted for many years. As we drove into Kastro village the road up to the castle looked doubtful, even for our little 6 metre van. We erred on the side of caution and parked up in the village to walk up the steep hill to the castle. First thing we were shocked with was there was a lady sat in the ticket hut, if she saw anyone other than us today would be amazed. For €3 though it was worth the spend, there is an inner castle within the main outer walls, a small museum and everything there was also written in English so we could understand a bit about it.

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From there we walked back into the village as Iain had spotted a bakery, once we he was fully armed with a supply of bread and cakes we headed down to the port to investigate the ferry crossings over to the nearby islands. I thought they were going to be cute little ferries with space for a few vans, not at all – only slightly smaller than the average cross channel ferry. The ferry for Zakynthos was in so we priced up a day trip, €100 return, which was a cheaper option than Kefalonia where they wanted €166 return – so that was the cheap ferry day trip idea blown.

Weather update, its getting colder again. The skies are blue with the odd cloud and the sun is warm but someone up in Northern Europe is sending an icy wind down and the last two days have become a bit chilly, to the extent that kite flying has ceased until warm winds prevail. We intend to move a bit further South tomorrow, not for the weather just for a change of scenery so we are heading to a campsite a couple of hours down the coast, The site we are on, Ionion Beach, is one of the best we have stayed on anywhere, being told by our British neighbours that this is the best one in Greece does make us wonder whether we should move on just yet. Then again what one person likes isn’t always the same as the next so fingers crossed we find somewhere as good if not better.

P1080073We will go a long way to beat this pitch right on the sea

 

Kite flying before winds got too chilly