Greece so far has been a revelation. Simple things such as Corfu being pretty much next-door to Albania and opposite to Italy, when we thought all the islands were down by Crete, who would have thought it? Just confirms our total ignorance of the geography of the country. I expected all the housing to be whitewashed villas with blue roofs, a bit Mama Mia really but we haven’t seen sight nor sound of Meryl Streep and now find that we would need to visit Rhodes or the other Cycklades Islands for that type of architecture. Most shocking of all – not sniff of any houmous, we have tried several shops and a couple of supermarkets and not a hint of it anywhere – the search will continue.
The weather too has been a bit surprising – for the first few days it has to be said it was cold, not only that it was overcast too, but low and behold the sunshine moved in on New Years Day, we were out with the awning and sun chairs and sat in the sun by mid morning. Since then the sun has made a longer appearance each day and temperatures have climbed slowly. We are liking here that the Greeks do not go for that pretend winter look – all bundled up in boots and big leather coats when its warm enough to sit on the beach, there were people without coats on in town yesterday and they were not tourists!
New Years Eve – somewhat chilly, refuse to wear a coat but the hat was needed
Normal sunshine service resumed on New Years Day
It is certainly significantly quieter here than we have experienced in Spain or Portugal at the same time of year. Our campsite here, Ionion Beach, has pitches for upwards of 200 motorhomes, this week there have been between seven and ten most days, several Bulgarians, a couple of French and a few British coming and going. Everything is very, very laid back at the campsite, you just come in park up and pay when you want to leave. They don’t check you in as such, no passports or details are needed they just smile and wave a lot and leave you to enjoy it. Most motorhomes are taking advantage of the pitches right on the edge of the beach, premium pitches in high season but now just €15 per night (which is cheaper than with an ACSI discount?)
New Years Day walk – first outing for the milk bottles
The village we are staying at is called Glyfa (or Glifa depending on which sign you read on the roads), its beyond small, its minute. There is a very old fashioned shop that is as big as the average living room, four tavernas, a church and many goats dotted around in large gardens and olive groves. We are an hour and a bit South West of Patras and we are looking out over to the island of Zakynthos which is 10 miles across the sea from our pitch. It is a small tourist industry here which appears to rely on the many campsites and a few villas, we have only seen one small hotel on the edge of the village. Walking along the beach from the campsite here there are houses, huts, villas, in fact pretty much every type of dwelling imaginable right on the shoreline for at least a mile or two. Each has its own small piece of beach, the homes vary from beautifully restored large whitewashed villas to smaller fishing cottages, then right down to what can only be described as shanty shacks. Amongst them there are tavernas that look like they are just a 10 ft square in someone’s garden and a few restaurants perched out over the sea. Not sure this is ever a hub for the mass tourism industry even in high summer, more its a little bit of 1950’s Greece stuck in a bit of a time warp, and it really is all the better for it in our opinion. A few miles up the road is the town of Vartholomio, again not really geared towards tourism but very much open and lively, plenty of shops, bars and cafes.
On New Years Day I walked into the village for some bread, one taverna was open as was the village shop but there were very few people around. The shop sells pretty much most essentials, the elderly gentleman running the shop did not speak any English so it was my three words of Greek greetings and then lots of arm waving to describe bread – its nearly impossible to describe bread with your hands believe me! In the end I tried a bit of French and he smiled and pointed me to an old wooden box which contained what was definitely fresh bread once, but probably a good 24 hours before I was in the shop. I didn’t have the heart not to buy it just because it was a bit stale, I paid my money and the fresh bread we planned to have for lunch was replaced by toast.
Everywhere we go there is a shrine, we are not talking massive here just small box like structure at the side of the road, outside houses etc. some have doors, but are never locked, others are open to the elements. They all contain holy pictures, fresh flowers, small tokens etc but what is amazing is they are not damaged, robbed or daubed with graffiti. At home I cannot believe the beautiful plaques and pictures could be left yet here there seems to be a respect that people use these shrines not only to honour the dead from road accidents but also to give thanks if someone survived an accident. For the first days it was exciting everytime we spotted one, now we realise they are every couple of hundred yards its a bit worrying just how many road accidents there must be.
First impressions of Greece, we are loving it. People are very kind and patient with us and the weather is glorious now (and fingers crossed stays that way for a while). Diesel is very cheap here at €1.11 per litre (87p) which is nearly 30p a litre cheaper than home. Food is cheap too, we did a massive Lidl shop and only stopped buying due to the size of our fridge. We stocked up on essentials and also went mad with treats and and still only spent a few euro over our normal meager budget. We have used a couple of the local small mini-markets, just as cheap there to be fair, rice and grains are sold by the sack load so we will be sticking to Lidl pre-packed for space reasons.
We hear that Greece is facing political turmoil over the coming months, with massive 30% unemployment you cannot blame them. Whilst we read before we came about the lack of shops, food etc – its simply not something we are seeing. In the larger villages the grocers are packed full with good fruit and vegetables, there are of course empty shop units, no more than we have at home. There are beggars in the towns and villages, mainly women and young teenage children, some sell vegetables or wash windscreens, others just sit on kerb-sides and call for money. I had a few concerns that the Greeks were reported to be anti tourists from Germany and the UK, that has certainly not been the case with anyone we have met. People are very kind, polite and friendly. A young lad in the garage yesterday told us its rare to see British here as its usually German or French that visit, he was pleased to be able to practice his English. The chap that sells tomatoes on the roadside a mile past the campsite waves to us as we pass each way, the Greeks so far have been more welcoming than we could have hoped for.
We had a fright on Friday when we tried four different atm’s to get some cash out – not a one would give me any money. Our thought was there had been a run on the banks as they had a few years ago, at the fifth bank Iain went and tried and got cash no problem, so it looks like it was just my card not being liked – phew!
We have enjoyed our ‘mini break’ holiday here at Glyfa for the last 5 days, so much so we may stay for the next week too. There are some thermal springs, a castle and some Roman baths (in Greece??) we need to explore before we leave and Iain is becoming quite addicted to a couple of hours sunshine each afternoon so its going to prove difficult to drag him off to do some cultural touring. As today was a little overcast we took the opportunity to get out for a bit of a walk, with the intention of heading over to the said Roman baths, we got as far as the next village Arkoudi before we realised we didn’t actually have a map or any firm idea where we were heading. Having walked to the village along the rural road for nearly 5 miles we had seen only three cars, there really is hardly a soul on the roads. The nearest we saw to traffic was the lonely sheep herder moving his flock at break neck speed outside at Arkoudi. We stopped for a picnic on the beach, were stunned to see someone swimming in the sea (its no way warm enough for that malarkey) and found a new friend in a stray dog who adopted us in the hope of some spare titbits (he was disappointed!). Several miles later we are back at the campsite, the sun it making its way out so that is us finished for for the weekend.
That old cliche of ‘rush hour’ but its fairly true around here
Arkoudi – the teeniest of holiay resorts
Whilst our Greek is progressing painfully slowly we are still trying. Obviously Google Translate is the ‘go to’ for any words we want to learn. I did however come across a website that showed there is room for lots of confusion using literal translations:
Greek Saying “Η ζωή είναι σαν ένα αγγούρι, ο έναs το τρώει και δροσιστείτε, και ο άλλος το τρώει και ζορίζετε.”
Literal English Translation: “Life is like a cucumber, one person eats it and is refreshed, and another person eats it and struggles.”
What the Greeks really mean: “Life is simply what you make of it.”