Valentines trip to the theatre

Thursday morning we were up and away handy from our snug stop at Elia, decision time, either try the pass over the mountains at Kosmas for a second time, or take a long route around. Just looking up at the mountains we knew it wasn’t going to happen, the snow was still there and it was forecast for a little more to fall. We checked out as much as we could on the internet, as we saw that the road rises to just over 1100 metres or 3600 ft – so as that’s higher than Mt. Snowdon – we decided to give it a miss.

Plan B then is up past Sparti and then due North to Tripoli, our first confusion of the day as we felt sure that was in Libya (our geography is appalling but we live and learn). As we neared Tripoli we were climbing in the mountains, again, this time the snow-plough had cleared two lanes and despite an inch or so of snow on the verges the main road was plenty clear, enough to drive over with no problems. As we approached Tripoli we were doing the smug ‘made it’ and really not bothered about route. We were aiming for Nafplio, so we turned right and set our destination to Argos (again, what is that all about, calling towns after shops). Lesson about to be learned in the Peloponnese – there are lots of mountains! and guess what we are on our way over another one. This time its Mount Parthenios, another 3900 ft of solid rock nicely iced in fresh snow, one lane just about open all the way over – the middle lane. Lucky for us we took said lane and didn’t meet another vehicle for nearly 4 miles and when we did there was room enough to slide gracefully around each other as the snow was down to a light dusting at that point.

We come from Wales, we can do a bit of snow. We seriously under-estimated the snow in Greece and to be honest on one occasion we were slightly out of our depth (yup in more ways than one). We have snow tyres – result – we knew spending all that money would come in handy. If we hadn’t then we would not have made it as far up the mountain towards Kosmas on Wednesday (could have been a good thing) but also coming back down could have been a whole lot worse. Likewise Thursday we probably wouldn’t have continued over Mt Parthenios without snow tyres, we now have a greater love for our Cleibers than we ever thought probable.

Moving away from snow, we rounded the top of Mt Partheneios and could see the Argolikos Gulf straight ahead, sun shinning over the sea and all was back well with our world. We pulled over for lunch just outside Nafplio and for the first time in a few days there was warmth back in the sunshine. As we drove through Nafplio we couldn’t make up our minds, bustling, very trendy looking shops, lots of posh cars and the first time we have experienced a feeling of a bit of wealth and style in Greece. Even the town itself has three castles so it doesn’t skimp on attractions, the one set in the bay just off the harbour is without doubt the icing on the cake in terms of the postcard scene stakes.

We set ourselves up at Triton II campsite, a few miles down the coast and next to a pretty good looking beach. A very well kept campsite where the only complaint so far is the amount of feral cats and dogs – they are sat outside the van all day expecting tit-bits. There isn’t any real booking in system here, you just stay as long as you want ans when you are ready to go search out someone to pay. The facilities are lovely and as we had been off site for a few days I headed straight for a good shower as soon as we were set up. All very modern, new  and clean but I have to confess my first thought was the shower head is very small and doesn’t hang up and that is without doubt the biggest plughole I have yet to see. Okay it took less than 20 seconds for me too, I left and went to the showers! (if you need help with that last sentence the first cubicle was for ladies who ‘stand-up’).

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Outside the campsite entrance

The weather itself was a bit under the weather for a couple of days, warm enough but cloudy and overcast for a few days. We took a walk to Tolo just a mile or two up the beach, lots of small hotels and a couple of open tourist shops. It seems a fairly newish 1960’s type resort, nowhere near as smart as Nafplio and really doesn’t seem to try and compete. It must cater for a hefty summer tourist trade but guess that’s more for those just wanting the sunshine, sea and tavernas rather than the glitz and style of Nafplio.  Nothing there we could say was amazing and nothing we could say was awful, maybe it was the weather being grey made the town seem a bit too.

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Tolo – a bit grey

Not our sunniest of days

In the opposite direction we found a small lane that ran adjacent to a large inland body of water, we know not what it was maybe a nature reserve? at the end it joined the sea inlet and according to Google there would be a  crossing of sorts to Vivari, so we could walk back around the other side of the lake. Of course there wasn’t a crossing, whatever may have been there once was now just a skeleton and looking like its days were very numbered. So we walked back whence we came, stopped in Drepano village for a wander and a loaf from the bakers, we noticed again that people here tend to use tractors as much as cars. As we walked through the village square there were nearly as many tractors parked up as cars, it seems they are the usual form of transport for many. Then it was back to camp where Iain spent the afternoon washing off so much dirt and grime that the van must be weighing a good few kilos lighter.

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the sun coming back on the beach at the campsite

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The best campsite bungalows – you live upstairs and have underneath for your table and chairs

The world of motorhomers in Greece is so small its incredible. We have been joined on site yesterday by Tony, who was until a couple of days ago camped with Michael, who is now over in Finikounda parked up with Roland and Claire, with whom we were on a campsite last week in Gytheio, who met with Norman and Marion in Lidl, who we parked up with on a pier two weeks ago. We come across many of the same vans and people where ever we go, its a little like being part of a roving community where you slightly know most of the people, if not to speak to them to nod to at least. We were discussing the other night that to the locals it must be just like a winter influx of gypsies and I guess in a way that is what the winter stayers who travel around the Peloponnese for 2-3 months really are. Iain needs to watch out as that tan and the long hair are beginning to give him a Roma look, next thing he will be buying clothes pegs and lucky heather and starting his own little business.

We have now passed into the unknown territory of the three digit number – today being Day 105 of our travels. Our previous longish term trips have been around the 90 days mark, it may just be a number but for us it marks an achievement – over 100 days and neither of us has murdered the other:) In all honestly the only real differences of opinion are to do with navigation, maybe more honestly expressed as me getting us lost. As we have covered just over 4000 miles in the last 3 months though we haven’t done too badly in terms of wrong slots.  Other than that we aren’t finding living in a 6 metre x 2.5 metres box at all stressful, its exactly the opposite as we are both very chilled and very much loving our life as wandering travelers. We have a good clear divide of responsibilities, Iain does Logistics and I do Catering, nearly all jobs fall into one or the other category. Budget comes under Catering, no idea why but it does, so I am currently patting my own back as we have now covered the cost of that ‘unexpected ferry’ from Italy to Greece and remained under budget.  

This morning, Sunday, the sun came back and then some. Time to head out for some Greek ruin viewing. I am trying to limit the number of these as they are not totally Iain’s cup of tea but every now and again we find one that even he is more impressed with than he thought possible. Today was one of those days, the Great Theatre of Epidaurus, built in 340  BC and rediscovered less than 150 years ago, yet again Greece pulls out yet another ancient monument that is even better than anything we have seen before.

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Other than being spectacular to look at it is famed for having exceptional acoustics, supposedly the sound of a match struck on the centre stage can be heard perfectly clearly at any seat within the theatre. Whilst we were there a British school party arrived and the youngsters took it in turns to enact small dramas from the centre stage, whilst others climbed to the top rows to listen. In a word, yes, you can hear a word spoken at a normal level on stage perfectly clearly in the top rows. The position of the theatre is such that the mountains behind create a perfect backdrop to the stage, the overall effect is just beautiful. Really speaking only the first 14 rows are Greek, the Romans loved the place so much they increased the size of the theatre by adding another 21 rows.

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Tomorrow we are heading down towards Spetses for a few days, check out the ferry and maybe pop over so we can say we ‘did a Greek island’. Then its round to Ermioni and look for somewhere to enjoy the sunshine we have forecast for a few days.

Epidauvrus (61)No idea why they paint the olive trees blue – but loving it 🙂

Snowbound in Greece! it could only happen to us

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.

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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.

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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.


Elia harbour

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).

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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.

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Our first site of the Rock

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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.

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Kastro lower town

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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.

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more lower town

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even more stunning with the sun out

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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.

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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.

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