Who ate all the olives?

Being used to plenty of good quality vegetables when we have visited Spain and Portugal we were expecting the same here. Alas its not the case, aubergines, tomatoes and courgettes are plentiful, other than those its all looking a bit sorry for itself. We never knew there was so much you could do with an aubergine, they are pretty much now our staple diet. Fruit is ok for apples and bananas but not much else. I thought we were going to be on this healthy Greek diet with loads of fresh stuff but its a bit hit and miss in the villages here, with the exception of oranges and lemons which are treated almost as weeds and it seems no one much bothers picking them.

Similarly fish is very expensive considering we are by the sea, the Greeks have supposedly over fished the waters, so much of the fish for sale here is imported. I thought we might have a chance at locally caught fish when Iain dug out the fishing paraphernalia,  the talk was cheap but his story was good, lets just say fish stocks have in no way been impacted!

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Our neighbours lunch – courtesy of the local fish monger

The other thing we have been surprised it’s a struggle to find has been olives – where are they? The whole country is one big olive grove and we expected to see stalls at the side of the road and signs for local olives everywhere. Not happening anywhere we have been, we are buying tinned ones from the supermarkets, no wonder they have a financial crisis – they need to get selling the mountain of olives that must be stockpiled somewhere here.

Yesterday we decided it was time to mosey over the hills to the Gulf of Messenia On the way we passed a very elderly couple going in the same direction, he walking, she on a donkey. We pulled over and I asked them if I could take a photo, they were more than happy to pose. We exchanged pleasantries for a few minutes, ok they had no idea of what I was saying I guess but they smiled a lot and nodded at whatever I said.  Not sure if you can see from the photo but she was a dead ringer for Stephanie Cole, I was thinking a BBC film crew were going to pop out at any second.

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When we arrived outside Koroni and there was a sign for the campsite which came about over 2 km sooner than Sat Nav was telling us it would do on the motorhome route. As you do, we ignored Sat Nav and followed the sign up the hill, the road became narrower, then we squeezed down between some white-washed cottages, then we breathed in as we went further and we both realised this could end horribly as the road was looking more akin to a footpath 100 yards ahead. At this stage a lovely Greek lady in her car started gesturing to us to spin around, we smiled and nodded, not sure how she thought we could spin a 6 metre motorhome on a road 2.5 metres wide. Iain took the decision to reverse back up the hill, take the first turn and keep his fingers crossed – that didn’t work either as it was a dead end on the beach! By now we were fed up and Plan G was just get the hell out of town and back on the main road, by use any road we deemed suitable i.e. ignoring the odd one way sign. From there we followed Sat Nav, amazingly we were taken smoothly around the outside of the village and in the other side, lovely wide road perfect for motorhomes bringing us straight to the door of the campsite 🙂

Camping Koroni is our new home for the next few nights, just five minutes walk from town it’s on the ‘first finger’ of the Peloponnese.  We are the only people on site, hard to understand why as it is lovely, much bigger pitches than our last site and less trees so plenty of sunshine too. When we arrived the owner offered a reduction for ACSI card, when we said we didn’t have one she said we could have the discount anyway. We have yet to find a campsite that doesn’t give the discount with or without the card but that might change as we go into spring and places are busier.

Koroni is another town that was once a Venetian naval fortress and has a Venetian castle, the sister castle of the one we visited in Methoni a few day ago. They were jointly known as the “The Eyes of the Serene Republic” and guarded the Venetian seas from pirates in days of old. The castle is nowhere near as complete as Methoni, its the standard H&S nightmare, but this one does have signs warning of danger, you walk right up to the edge to read them but they are there! There is a great deal of restoration work being undertaken and some areas are magnificent, to be fair as with nearly everywhere we have been in Greece it is free to enter so what’s to complain about.

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View through castle gates down over the Gulf of Messenia

This is much more in the ‘Greek style’ I had set in my mind that Greece should look like. Lots of narrow, cobbled streets and stairways are clustered against the hill, which all lead up to that inevitable Venetian castle. There are houses plugged into every available gap, tiny old cottages and more modern houses all jumbled along the streets with steep steps running up between them. We do like they whitewash lines on the paths and steps  to help you see where you are going – oddly they also whitewash the trees – not sure how you wouldn’t see a tree but we have seen this in most towns.  Even at this time of year there is plenty of colour in the flower pots that line the streets, and if not the pots themselves are brightly painted in many cases.

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Less steps – more a whitewashed ski run to get up and down

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Who needs flowers with this lot

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How I thought Greece would look – and does

We followed the streets up around the castle and by chance came upon the monastery, occupied by the Timios Prodromos Convent. I really do hate to keep saying everywhere and everything is amazing, stunning, incredible etc. – but again this was. There was nothing stating we could or couldn’t go in or even signs that tell you it is a monastery. It looked like a big church and the door was open, so we walked in and  found ourselves in the courtyard. There were several monks and nuns wandering around and they seemed fine with us being there, so we had a meander and then spotted the gift shop, from which we reasoned they accept visitors. At this stage a weeny old nun came over and offered us both some of her small star shaped biscuits. Being us of course we never refuse a biscuit (honey and tasty), she seemed happy we had accepted them, said a few words and waved her arms in a go  look around type gesture.

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St. John the Baptist Monastery entrance

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View over the monastery grounds from nearly the top of the old castle in the grounds

The tiny chapel was open (I was asked to put on a skirt, the nuns have a pile of them handy for female tourists in trousers) ornately decorated (chapel not skirt) and full of iconic paintings, we both felt very honoured to have been allowed to go inside.  We were allowed to wander freely all over the monastery grounds, at one point a nun came over to send us onto the roof of one of the churches. Behind the chapel in the parapets there were tiny cells in which we guess the original monks lived, one was set out with all the possessions a monk would have had which you could view through a gate, it was taller than it was wide or long, the bed no more than a couple of feet long.

As there wasn’t an entrance fee or anywhere to donate money we popped into the gift shop to do some spending. It sold small religious Orthodox paintings, jewellery etc. I picked up several bits and pieces and the shopkeeper nun charged us just €7 for the lot, worth every penny as an entrance fee.  A very beautiful place to visit where we were made to feel really welcome, and to be fair they do bake some pretty good biscuits 🙂

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One of the many friendly nuns in the courtyard, selling her postcards

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Inside the tiny ornate chapel

Back down at town we had a wander around the harbour and the shops, stopping for an afternoon coffee. Well I was brave and had Greek coffee, Iain was wise had had tea. Its not the strength of the coffee that bothers us, its why they put half a ton of coffee grounds in the cup with it.  As usual the cafes were full of older Greek men passing their days drinking strong coffee and smoking, and also as usual not a female coffee drinker to be seen.

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Many of the old town houses here seem to have fallen into ruin, but there is still plenty of Venetian architecture with wrought iron balcony railings and arched windows and doors. Down at the harbour are the biggest buildings, mainly empty now, there are old public buildings and what would have been large houses. Towards the castle are the pretty smaller cottages, called Laika or folk houses that have small courtyards but no real gardens, here the washing is hung proudly on the main street, string vests, undies the lot!

There are plenty of shops, including several hardware shops, they must be popular for some reason. Even though it was siesta time and most shops were shut they still leave everything outside, despite the poverty problems here is seems people are able to resist shoplifting from outside closed shops.

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 A town of many hardware shops, colourful and trusting

As we were on our way back to the campsite we spotted a small shop that sold olives! It said closed but there was an elderly Greek lady inside, we asked if we could come in and she opened up – hurray at last we have found good local olives, expensive good local olives but they taste superb so are worth the money. As we left the shop we spotted the bakery, and very cute very old Greek lady merrily waving to us out of the window of her shop with a very fetching gap toothed smile. We just had to go in to her shop and buy a small loaf, nope she wanted us to buy the biggest loaf she had, suckers that we are we did. 

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bread, olives and small bottle of Metaxa – that’s Stick sorted for food for the week

“By all means..”Socrates, Greece 5thc BC

We are ending the week exactly where we started it, still at Camping Finikes. We have talked a few times about moving on but so far that hasn’t happened.  The days have passed very quickly considering we have done very little. It is amazing that a few days sunshine has turned our heads away from all the traveling and culture plans and straight towards sitting in the sun and baking to a shade of salmon pink. We make the effort to stroll onto the beach each morning and check out the water temperature (still a tad chilly) and just spend half an hour looking at the amazing views of sand, sea and snow covered Taygetos mountains – then we really do thank our lucky stars that we here.

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It is very easy to understand how people spend the whole winter somewhere like this and just amble their days away, we could do it. Entertainment each day consists of watching fellow campers, most of whom are here from November through to April, going about their days. The danger doing this being that most campers here have some great ‘boy toys’ and Iain is thinking we need to invest in some of the gadgets ourselves. The large kayak owned by our German neighbours has been launched a few times (we need one?), Pierre has what we both consider to be one of the best tow-cars we have seen, every time he starts it up Iain has the wistful ‘could I have one of those faces’ (and he has priced one on the internet). To be fair its very hilly here and there are a few electric bikes on site (on our list). We will probably need to be thinking about moving on from this site soon before we consider a 5th Wheel to tow around too as that is catching Iain’s eye daily!

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 The ultimate tow-car?

Whilst it is out of season her right now there are still plenty of campsites open, just along this stretch of road there are four open within 2 km, but as we have said before there is a distinct lack of motorhomes. Campsite prices vary across the Peloponnese from €11 per night up to €22 but the facilities offered are pretty similar. We have emailed some sites to check if they are open and some come back with great offers, whilst others quote a top dollar rate which is double the price of another site five minutes down the road. Not sure why this site has more people on than any of the others, we have had a wander around them all and there isn’t a difference we can find other than people on a site seem to attract more people.

We haven’t strayed too far this week, we did walk into nearby village of Finikounda, only 2km along the beach, although we did have to cross a river by means on a fallen cork tree at the end of the beach to get there, not the best route but we made it. The village was quiet with a few bars open but as we are finding everywhere the Greek people were very welcoming. We were looking for an ATM to draw out some cash, but someone told us that’s only possible between April and October! Most of the ATM’s are closed down for the winter so we need to go to the next town where there is a bank which will have a working ATM.  The Greek people seem to us quite akin to the Italians (bet that is a very un-PC thing to say), they are loud, happy and slightly manic, everything involves big arm waving and gestures; but most of all we have found Greek people to be incredibly friendly and accommodating, nothing is too much trouble.

By this morning we were feeling like a couple of tourist slugs, just sitting around, So the bikes were dusted off and we stretched ourselves with a ride in the opposite direction of the village to Methoni, no cycle path so we took the main road but hardly any traffic so it was fine. The only concern we had was the falling rocks on the road, all the way along the road was strewn with rocks. The council here do not clear them up, so unless a motorist or farmer clears falls away the roads can be a very hazardous. What was worse than rocks for us was the hills! we do fairly flat cycling, this isn’t flat at all and I was coming round to the electric bike idea by the time we got there.

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Methoni was worth every single second of effort, the view as we came around the corner to the village was breath taking. The village is set around the bay and the castle, one of the largest in the Mediterranean, spreads out along a rocky promontory. It’s not just one castle, its more like two – the main one set along the sea edge and connected to village by a bridge which crosses a vast moat. Then at the far end there is a causeway onto another fortified building – the Bourtzi, which was a prison and place of executions during the Turkish Occupation. Built in 1500 the causeway is actually paved and is like a small roadway which connects the Bourtzi to the massive sea gate of the castle. Being Greece we were allowed to wander around everywhere, climb the castle steps and walls and generally take our lives into our own hands, there is nothing stopping you falling to a certain death from the tops of the walls except your own common sense and it seems the Greeks use this rather than fences and ropes – we like their style.

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Methoni Castle – first views from the National Road

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the sea gate

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Looking back over the causeway from the fortified prison to the sea gate

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the Bourtzi – prison

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One of the reasons for cycling in into Methoni was my concern that it might be difficult to park the van. I couldn’t have been more wrong with that worry, we could have parked anywhere we wanted as there were two or three tourist cars and a few cyclists and pretty much enough parking left over for a fleet of motorhomes. We treated ourselves to lunch in Methoni village square, making the basic error of not really looking at where we had chosen to eat – it was an Austrian restaurant! ok not the most authentic Greek lunch but never mind, it was all good and Iain treated himself to his first Metaxa to fortify himself for the cycle (mountain) ride home. As we left the village we spotted a small electrical shop, we have been looking for one for weeks as our kettle is on its last legs. I was prepared in advance with a translation which I gave to Iain, whilst I waited outside with the bikes. I heard Iain dutifully ask for a ‘katsarola’, then a big discussion and much opening of boxes. Turns out that I sent him him in for a ‘fish kettle’, ah well he sorted it our eventually and we are now the proud owners of something that looks like the bridge of the SS Enterprise.

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A well earned Metaxa

The other piece of equipment that has now met its demise is my Kindle 😦 This is sad as I have 40’ish new books loaded to read, it becomes even sadder when our kind neighbour passed over 100 new books to add on via a plug in. We have tried all the resets, removal of battery etc – its kaput. I have downloaded a reading app onto my mini lap top so will be testing that out until we find a supplier of Kindles somewhere on our travels. On the upside I was after a Kindle Voyage so that is now on the shopping list, back to downside they are not yet for sale in Greece.

After our first two weeks in Greece our overall impression is – loving it. The concerns of coming this far with a motorhome were always in the back of our minds, our rubbish research meant we were unsure on standard or prices of campsites, what to expect in terms of roads, shops, food, people etc; yes we know it was never going to be Outer Mongolia but it was well outside our usual comfort zone.  Without a doubt the whole experience has been made really easy and enjoyable by the Greek people and their kindness to a couple of Brits with no real plans, an incredibly limited Greek vocabulary and no map! We would have to give the roads a half tick but for everything else Greece in a motorhome is so far a fabulous idea, one of those we wish we had thought of earlier :).