It’s Wednesday 19th November and time to leave the Pelion Peninsula behind. We leave Ag. Kiriaki on the Pelion’s most Southerly point and head back towards Volos. We stop at Milina to buy some fresh bread, veg and some local honey. In the bakery we are tempted by a Spanakopita (spinach and feta pie made with file pastry) for our brunch, which we enjoy with a cuppa, whilst making use of the towns free WiFi and listening to the rain drumming on Heidi’s roof.
The rainstorm starts to ease as we head to our night-stop and the skies continue to clear from the West, and by the time we park on the seafront at Nea Archialos, it is so clear we can see can islands and mountains, that we’ve not seen before. The only downside to our chosen spot is that it’s right next a military airbase, the jets make Heidi shake as they take-off and land. Thankfully they stopped about seven in the evening and didn’t start up again until eight the next morning.
The day dawns sunny and clear, so we decide to take the slightly longer and virtually toll-free mountain route towards Delphi.
The road winds up and down a series of mountain passes, in between which, at about 500m are large flat plains. These are a cultivated patchwork of fields, where they grow cotton in the summer and grains in the autumn and winter. We pass through Farsala, which is where much of the cotton in the area is processed. On the edge of the town there’s a large area of shacks and shelters made of plastic sheeting; a ‘shanti town’ where it appears the immigrant and Roma agricultural workers live. Nobody in these places looks Greek. As we continued South on route E65 towards Lamia and then Amfissa we pass an abandoned garage; home to another Roma family. There’s a water supply and they’re doing the washing; slapping it against the concrete forecourt and hanging it up on strings between the old petrol pumps. We see several more of the semi-permanent, plastic sheet and corrugated iron, settlements. It looks like a pretty desperate existence. There can’t be any work for much of the year.
We park up for the day 4kms below Delphi, it’s 3 o’clock and the ancient sites have already closed for the day. From our vantage point we have fabulous views across the valley, to the Gulf of Corinth and to the Mountains of the Peloponnese beyond. In the valley is Greece’s largest continuous olive grove, which stretches all the down to the coastal town of Itea.
In the morning, a beautiful clear, blue, windless day, it’s off to Ancient Delphi. It’s in a great location, about 500m above sea level, perched on the steep slopes of Mt. Parnassos, looking down to a valley of olive and cypress trees. We’re there early, and it’s quiet, the song of an ‘Orphean Warbler’ is the only sound that breaks the stillness and silence of the place. It is not hard to understand why this place was of such spiritual importance to the Ancient Greeks.
Although the height of Delphi’s importance was in the 6th century BC, the tradition of an oracle at Delphi goes back to as early as 1400BC.
Delphi centres around a temple to the god Apollo and the ‘Sacred Way’ leading up to it. The Sacred Way would have been lined with statues and ‘treasuries’ , housing the votive offerings from grateful cities / states, for the oracle’s / Apollo’s advice. Much has been removed to the museum alongside and elsewhere, which seems a shame, but I suppose it would have just deteriorated otherwise.
Greek mythology has it that , Zeus released two eagles at the opposite ends of the world and Delphi was the point where the two eagles met, so he marked the spot by throwing down the omphalos(navel), a dome-shaped stone to mark the centre of the Earth. It is also the spot where Apollo is supposed to have killed a dragon or python which fell into an opening or crack in the rocks and slowly decomposed emitting noxious fumes.
The Oracle, or seer, would sit in this spot and breath in the intoxicating vapours, fall into a trance allowing Apollo to possess her spirit, and in this state she prophesied and ‘advised’ about the future outcome of battles etc. to pilgrims; kings and rulers from all over the ancient world. (It was probably just a hot spring, but lets not ruin the story)
The earliest oracles were young women who had a habit of running off with their advice seeking pilgrims leaving the position vacant, hence it became the custom for the appointed seer to be at least 50 years of age.
Other sources say that, in fact, Delphi became a great centre of learning. There were as many as 50 priests officiating at the temple. It was they who would ‘receive’ the oracles vision, for apparently it was garbled nonsense anyway, and ‘translate’ it. Their knowledge and understanding of the world was obviously in no small part due to the number and variety of pilgrims from far and wide, who would of course bring knowledge with them from whence they had come.
We spend much of the day exploring Delphi, the extensive museum, and the ‘Gymnasium’ and ‘Sanctury of Athena Pronea’ in the valley below, before heading down to Itea, on the coast, for the night and park-up next to a semi-deserted marina. There’s plenty of boats, but power and water has been removed and the reception building and facilities look permanently closed. The weather remains sunny and warm and we spend 4 days in this pleasant spot. It’s nice to be in a place that’s not all shut up for the winter, and has a permanent year round community. There’s a good bakery just across the road and the local small fishing boats moor up by the quay a few yards away to sell their catch direct to the waiting public. As we take a promenade along the front late Sunday morning, the tables outside the bars are filled with people enjoying a glass of ouzo or wine with and a plate of meze in the winter sun.
On Tuesday 25th November we drive up into the hills and then along the dramatic coast road to just before the village of Aghia Solira where we find a bit of rough ground off the road for a quiet night stop. The next morning we drive via Pissia and Perahora down to Lake Vouliagmenis. We park next to a closed Taverna overlooking the lake in the surprising company of 2 other vans. One huge German truck the size of a coach and a more ordinary looking French one. We’ve seen very few fellow travellers around recently. We’d expected more. By lunchtime wind and rain have set in again so it’s time to hibernate with a book and cups of tea.
On Wednesday we drive to the end of the headland to the ‘Heraion of Perachora’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heraion_of_Perachora . More ‘old stuff’. It was less impressive than we’d hoped (having been rather spoiled by Delphi. There were supposed to be underground cisterns to explore. We took the torch, but never found them.
From the lighthouse on the point, we can see over to Corinth and into the entrance of the canal in the distance. On a sunny day with a light breeze, this would be a beautiful spot, but once again by lunchtime the sun goes and the rain arrives; so back home to soup, tea and toast.
On Thursday morning we head for the Corinth Canal, and drive over a small wooden bridge on the West end of the Canal. There’s a sign saying 3 tonne weight limit which surely can’t apply to us? We ‘make like a Greek’ and ignore it (we’re only a little over 3 tonne) By the time we reached the Eastern most bridge on the Canal we have managed to drive across the canal three times and walk across four times. It’s a very impressive bit of engineering.
The Corinth Canal:
Constructed from 1881 to 1893 with help from Hungarian engineers, the canal is 6343m long, 8m deep, 24.6m wide at sea level and 21m wide at the bottom. The walls standing 79m high from sea level are inclined at between 71 and 77 degrees. There are approximately 12500 trips through the canal annually, saving the alternative of 132 miles around the bottom of the Peloponnese, a passage renowned for rough seas. In times gone by the Ancient Greeks would drag their boats, including the huge Triremes , their famous rowing war ships, overland across this route on a paved track; the ‘Diolkos’
By early afternoon the mist and cloud begins to roll in from the South East and after a brief visit to a very strange and down-market Carrefour (where we buy Heidi some Christmas lights to brighten up the grey days) we drive up to Acrocorinth in the clouds. There are supposed to be amazing views from up here but the cloud is so thick we can hardly see across the car-park. Time to put Heidi’s duvet on and hibernate for the night.
In the morning we can see a bit more but the low cloud is still floating around. We set off to explore the castle / fortress. This fortified town was where the people of Ancient Corinth escaped when there were under attack from pirates or invading armies. Many people would have had houses both down in the town and up in the fortress. It’s an extensive place, with the remains of as many as 6 churches and 4 mosques, revealing it’s tumultuous history. It’s hard to see how anybody could have got in uninvited. There are 3 sets of fortified walls to get by, and that’s from the most accessible side, it’s mostly vertical cliff faces! Next it’s down to the modern village of ‘Ancient Corinth’ surrounding the extensive remains of the old town. We don’t pay the 6 euros per person to visit the site as we feel we can see plenty from a walk round the boundary fences. (The continuing effects of ‘Old stuff Overdose’)
More info on Ancient Corinth here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Corinth
In the afternoon we drive South to the former capital of Greece; the ancient fortress town of Nafplio. We pass through miles and miles of orange orchards. The trees look very ‘cheerful’ with their brightly coloured fruit, even on a dull day. The oranges look like christmas tree baubles. Each orchard has it’s own mini wind turbine, which is switched on when there is a threat of frost. The turbines produce enough air turbulence to prevent any cold still air producing frost on the trees and damaging the crop.
Our database shows that we can stop next to the port at Nafplio, but it’s pretty busy with lots cars and lorries parked up so we head through the old town to a small car park behind the castle walls which is much quieter. From here there’s a coastal paths in both directions, which is popular with walkers and joggers, and the beach below is popular with local swimmers even at this time of the year.
On Sunday morning we walk along the coastal path underneath the castles walls to the old harbour and down the narrow streets into the main square in the old town. The cafes are busy and we join the scene and watch the world go by.Our attention is drawn to large numbers of police with riot gear lining the edge of the square, and also the presence of high-ranking police officers outside the Town Hall; hello, hello what’s going on here then? We finally give up waiting for whatever may or may not be happening and just as we leave the café we hear and then see a small military band march in and then out of the square. A few minutes later there is the thunderous roar of military jets overhead. An air display we think, but because of the narrow streets it’s hard to spot the planes overhead. We ask a local shop owner – what’s occurin?
Apparently on 30th November 1821, the Turks were permanently ousted from the Palamidi Castle in Nafplio. As part of the celebrations this year, the regional governor of the Pelopennese region, was being ‘given the key to the city’ by the Mayor. Hence all the ‘security’ and we guessed by the silent ‘poster’ protest in an adjacent square the potential for some to show their continued discontent with the current government.
During the Greek War of Independence, Nafplio was a major Ottoman Turk stronghold and was besieged for more than a year. The town finally surrendered because of starvation. After it’s capture, and because of it’s strong fortifications, it became the seat of the provisional government of Greece. It was made the official capital of Greece in 1829 by Count Ioannis Kapodistrias, the first head of state of newly liberated Greece, and remained so until 1834 when the then King, King Otto, having established the new ‘Kingdom of Greece’, decided to move the capital to Athens.
On Monday 1st December we drove the 6km around the coast to the next beach, which turns out to be a very nice and popular ‘free camping’ spot. There were eight other vans there of various nationalities, more than we’ve seen in a single spot since Austria. There’s all we need; a water tap, a place to empty the loo tank, a sandy beach and a relatively easy walk or cycle back along the coast path into Nafplio. We only stayed a couple of nights, but this is one of the few places in Greece so far we felt we could stay for a considerably length of time. We’ll be back!!
Feeling the need to explore further, we travel about 20km West along the coast to Iria Beach and check out the Iria Beach Campsite. The area is flat and the beach is not as nice as the one we’ve just left behind. The campsite is alright, but the washing machine wasn’t working properly and the wifi, which is no longer free as advertised, was hopelessly slow. There are also swarms of nasty bitey midges! There are quite a few Germans and Austrian over wintering with touring caravans, and we’ve been thinking of looking for a suitable site for us to stay for up to a month over Christmas and New Year, but this isn’t it!
After a couple of days we can stand the midges no longer. It’s the only place we’ve been so far in Greece where they’ve really been a problem. So we continue our journey down this peninsula to a likely looking spot at Salandi or Saladiou Bay. We park next to the wide pebbly beach; a very quiet and isolated spot. We stay and ‘be’ for a couple of days, taking long walks and swimming every day. It’s cold in the water but we haven’t succumbed to wetsuits – yet. There’s a huge derelict hotel and bungalow park set back in the trees behind the beach, complete with swimming pools, beach bars, tennis courts, mini-golf and even an open air theatre. By the look of it, and the advertising brochures still behind the reception desk!, it was probably constructed in the 70’s. There’s an abandoned pile of telephone directories dated 1999 by the door, so it was probably still in use then. A bit of ‘Google-ing’ reveals that it was constructed illegally in this area designated for the preservation of the traditional landscape. It’s hard to see though, unless it’s actually demolished, what difference has been made by abandoning it, especially with much of the adjacent coast divided up into plots that are for sale for more modern holiday villas? Still it leaves a perfect free camping spot, that no one is likely to change for some time – ideal for us.
Goatherds and shepherds bring their animals passed daily to graze on the newly sprouting winter grass, providing some entertainment. We still find this a surprising sight, knowing how unruly British sheep can be. The shepherd, seemingly with little effort, keeps the flock together with a few shrill cries. There’s usually a dog or two, but they certainly don’t have to run round their flock like their British counterparts, and when it is time to move on, the shepherd gets up from his rock or tree stump where he has been resting and all the flock move with him; no stragglers or thoughts of running off in the other direction. Amazing.
We like this peninsula; there’s plenty more to see here, but we’ve decided to head off and look for a suitable campsite to stop for a while. So it’s time to retrace our steps (or should that be our tracks?) back towards Nafplio and then head West and South.
See you soon.
Peter and Elaine