as usual, click on the sets of photos to see them full size with the captions ( close each time with the small ‘ x ‘ top left )
you can see where we’ve been on a Google map here:
Zoom and pan around. Click on the pushpins for more info, photos, and a link to the relevant blog. (note there’s no link on the most recent points – the blog isn’t written yet!)
We stay at Analipsi Beach, West of Kalamata, for couple of days. Its quiet and warm. We like! Then we head up into the mountains. We pass through Megalopoli (“Very Big” – the Greeks are full of imaginative town names!) It’s busy and the cafes are full. We stop briefly at Karitena, a hilltop village with a ruined castle and a Byzantine church, before continuing on to Stemnitsa where we stop for drinks and a ‘medium meze’ at the only place that’s open – good home cooked ham, feta, olives, tomatoes, a beer and a rose wine from the barrel in the cellar. This place is obviously on the tourist trail, but it’s hardly ‘woken up’ yet. We’re at around 1000m here. We contemplate the signposted walking routes, as we sit out in the sun wearing shorts, knowing how easily the weather here can still change at this time of year.
We stop for the night, just short of Dhimitsana, where we turn off down towards the ‘Water Power Museum’, and continue to the tiny village of Paliochori. This is the end of the road for a ‘Heidi’. It’s very small through the village and doesn’t go any further anyway. It’s a nice little place, surrounded by terraced fields and gardens – various plots for sale: tempting… . As we wander around, I’m accosted by an old lady, one of only 6 or 7? permanent residents here, but we can’t make each other understood. She smile’s anyway, and later stumbles across to some neighbours with the aid of a stick – It must be a very isolated existence here.
We take an evening stroll and investigate a path down into the gorge. There’s a raging torrent flowing where the path should be …which whisks me off my feet, leaving me with a wet bum and an unhappy camera. It doesn’t appear to have liked being thrown into a river …a rock may have been involved too! If the quality of the pictures deteriorate from now; you know why!.
In the morning we opt for the road (much easier and very quiet) down into the gorge and head towards the Filosophou (Philosophy) Monastery. The path on the other side of the gorge is unstable and clinging to the side of a near vertical cliff – definitely scary! We take the road on the way back; better views and very, very little traffic. A good day.
The 4th of April brings low grey cloud. We definitely chose the right day for our walk. We drive up into Dhimitsana around lunchtime and wander around the tiny stepped paths between tightly packed houses.
There’s only one drivable road through here. The tavernas are offering; wild boar, rooster with tomatoes, mousaka – appealing on this cold day, but unfortunately Elaine is feeling unwell, so we give it a miss and decide to drive on, through the mountains. It’s a dramatic winding road, high above another deep gorge, passing through Lagadia and Lefkochori. A very tiring drive. Slowly we descend towards the coast again and stop at Ancient Olympia for the night. It was here that the Olympic Games began over 2,700 years ago. Loads more info. here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olympia,_Greece
The next day brings more grey and it rains most of the day, but we’re here now and feel we should fit this last important bit of ‘old stuff’ into our schedule. We start with the museum, thinking it’ll surely dry up later – it didn’t. It’s busy. There are several coach loads of people here. I hate to think what it’d be like later in the season! There’s loads of artefacts that have been found during all the excavations here – pots, figurines, ‘votive offerings’, – many identical to the ones we saw at Mycanae, near Nafplio. There’s an impressive collection of the traditional tripod cauldrons / cooking pots, ranging from huge down to tiny models. The model ones were believed to be used for votive offerings, symbolising the heart of the home; showing the importance of food and thanking the gods for it.
There’s also lot’s of impressive statues. How do they know who they all are we wonder; they’re mostly headless!
After lunch, we head out again, umbrellas in hand, in the heavier! rain to look at the outside ‘old stuff’. It’s a huge site, and they’re still excavating. By now, we feel we’ve seen it all before though. It’s within, what is now, a beautiful bit of parkland and the trees are just getting their new, bright green leaves. There’s pink blossom and wild flowers everywhere, almost making up for the terrible weather. Eventually the rain stops and we watch an English school group having an impromptu race on the original Olympic track.
From Olympia, it’s down to Pyrgos, just inland from the coast. We skirt around the edge of this busy, unattractive town, noting a serious rubbish problem. There’s what must be weeks and weeks of it piled up everywhere; the original bin often barely visible beneath it (we never did discover what the issue was; thankfully it was isolated to a fairly limited area.)
Along the coast road through miles and miles of what must be the traditional fishing shacks / holiday places of the locals. They’re all tightly packed together, preventing any access to the beach for us; and there’s nowhere to park. Many places have been destroyed by the wind and the waves, and then a replacement built just inland. The whole place has a weird empty feeling – there’s virtually no one around. We move on to Katakalo on the point. There’s a yacht marina and a ferry and cruise ship terminal, and loads of parking, but it’s all pretty unappealing. We finish up nearby, in ‘our own private campsite’ – open grassy areas, surrounded by trees. It appears to be open, public land? Not sure we’ll tell everyone about this spot. hehe.
Next it’s north up the coast, stopping at Patronikoleika, next to a huge holiday resort showing no sign of opening for Easter – surprising. We visit Amaliadha for some shopping. It’s madly busy with narrow streets, and we gingerly squeeze between the usual double parked, or should I say ‘abandoned’, cars that Greece exemplifies. The whole coastal plain here is flat, agricultural land, with not much signs of life in the villages. It always comes as a shock to enter the odd big town and realise: oh, this is where everyone is. Cafes and bars are full, with people spilling out into the streets. There’s shops selling everything and people wear trendy, designer clothes. A big contrast to the rural areas. We find an AB supermarket and, surprisingly, a parking spot, before escaping the bedlam and heading off looking for somewhere more suitable for us over Easter weekend. It’s a shame that there’s rarely somewhere suitable for us to stay in these bigger places. It would be nice to be part of real life for a bit and get a feel of things – especially over Easter.
Heading back towards the coast, we discover miles and miles of sandy beaches, backed by dunes and pine forests. There’s little development and what there is, is still all closed up. The beaches and the rapidly improving weather temps us to stay for several days. We swim and lounge in the sun while we can; we haven’t exactly had lots of opportunity this trip.
The nearby town of Vartholomio is a manageable size for us and we find parking easily enough. With some determination and a bit of luck, we get our timing right to join in the Good Friday celebrations here. We visit the churches in the afternoon, checking out the elaborately decorated ‘Epitaphio’ (the symbolic bier of Christ – these days it’s designed to carry an Icon), ready for later. We return at 8.30pm, just as it is getting dark, to find the churches and the squares outside packed with people. There’s much singing and chanting going on inside and we push through the throng to see what’s going on. As seems to be the norm with Greek Orthodoxy, the ‘congregation’ doesn’t join in. There are 3 priests in different locations in the church, and as one stops his bit, it’s taken up immediately by another, all in the same singing / chanting voice. Occasionally a member of the public takes the mike for a short part too – presumably they are telling the Easter story. Like the many bell ringings, it’s all amplified as loud as possible and broadcast via speakers from the bell tower. There’s a huge queue to kiss the Icon amongst much genuflecting. We’re in it for a bit before realising and sidling off to the side. It’s not really our thing. We wonder at this massive exchange of saliva; you’d develop a strong immune system here! Everybody is here; all ages and all ‘walks of life’; the local farmers, the city visitors in the latest fashion (you can see the little old ladies in black looking disapprovingly at the young things in the shortest of short mini-skirts and ridiculously high heals). There’s some very young children and even, surprisingly, the odd immigrant worker. All are keen to kiss the Icon. Once the chanting is over and we’ve all been sprinkled with liberal amounts of holy oil, dished out into waiting hands, or over the children’s heads, from a fancy pourer thing, by the chief priest / bishop, we head outside into the square where the procession begins.
It’s all led by a brass band. There’s various crosses and symbols of various types carried on poles up front, followed by the Epitaphios from both the churches. The Priest is still being enthusiastic with the oil, as, what appears to be most of the town, follows the procession carrying candles and sprinkling flower petals. We join in with everyone for what turns out to be quite a long walk around the town. Most of the houses and businesses along the route have got candles burning and incense wafting. We stop at the cemetery for a bit whilst everybody lights candles at the family graves and the bell is constantly rung, before continuing. There are various stops for chanting and petal throwing and of course oil sprinkling ..and then there’s the bangers! A team of enthusiastic youth, walking rather to close to where we are, are intent on chucking them down every side street and onto every bit of wasteland or half-built building. They’re deafening.
Eventually, back at the appropriate churches, the Icons are restored to their places. Of course they need kissing again, but this time, people begin to pull the hundreds of flower heads from the decorated Epitaphio and take them away as they leave, heading for the surrounding bars and cafes.
It was quite an event, lasting at least a couple of hours. Apparently the follow-up is a midnight service on Saturday, culminating with the Priest appearing in complete darkness, with a single candle. The flame, having been lit from a ‘eternal flame’ in Jerusalem, and then flown to Athens and distributed to all the churches in the country! The flame is then passed around with repeated shouts of “Christos Anesti” (Christ is Risen), and then carefully carried home where the ‘head of the household’ makes a smoky cross above the front door with it.
For more info. on Greek Orthodox Easter Celebrations see this (as usual) very thorough account by Barry and Margaret of magbaztravels: http://www.magbaztravels.com/content/view/1700/380/ We seem to have missed out on much of this, either due to appalling weather or not being in the right place at the right time – another year perhaps?
After Easter we head towards Patra. As we pass the main ferry terminal to Italy, we spot plenty of hopeful, desperate looking, potential immigrants loitering near the gates and checking the place out. We’d heard stories of them trying to hide under or in your van as you board the ferry. We find a good spot on the beach at the other end of town, overlooking the impressive suspension bridge to the mainland. It’s busy with locals, fishing and swimming. We stay for a couple of days and manage to book a ferry (in a little over a months time) from Igoumenitsa, further up the coast, to Venice, from a local travel agent. It costs us 349eu, much cheaper than expected. We’d seen 460eu quoted online.
We thought about our return route for ages. The cheapest option is probably to drive up through the Balkans, but it’s a long way and we decided we’d just be rushing through places; which didn’t appeal – something for a future trip? There are also several, much shorter, ferry crossings to Italy, but they wouldn’t have been any cheaper by the time you’d factored in fuel and probable motorway tolls on the Italian side. And again, we felt we’d be rushing through places we’d like to stop at as we headed north. We’ve got what is termed a ‘camping on board’ ticket, meaning we don’t have a cabin or allocated seat, but can stay in the van. We can even plug-in to their electrics.
We make one last stop in the Peloponnese; Dhiakopto, on the northern coast, before we leave what has been home for getting on for five months (we crossed the Corinth Canal on 28th Nov 2014 – see our previous blog:). We stayed in Dhiakopto for 5 nights. It’s obviously a popular spot just before or after the ferry from Patras which, it seems, is how most people get to and from here. We have a steady stream of neighbours from France, Switzerland, Germany and England. Having hardly seen any other vans for months it’s a bit of a shock.
The main reason for coming here was the cog railway trip up the spectacular Vouraikos Gorge. Unfortunately it’s now been modernised from the original steam train and is now all ultra modern. The scenery though, remains just as spectacular. So much so, that we took the train, a second time, up to the half way station and walk back down, so as to have more time to appreciate it. It’s a long walk for us; probably about 8 miles. It’s gently downhill all the way, which we thought would make it easy, but much of it is on the course chippings that make up the bed of the railway itself (there is nowhere else to go!), which didn’t make for easy or comfortable progress. You had to look out for the trains to, which couldn’t be heard above the sound of the raging river below. Luckily it’s a popular thing to do and the train drivers expect crazy walkers and are ready on the horn. In many places it’s only just possible to stand clear of the tracks. A great walk, albeit a very tiring one.
The train goes up to the town of Kalavrita, famous for a horrific massacre, during WW2, at the hands of the Nazis. Almost every male members of the population, over the age of 14, was executed by machine gun, on the 13th of December 1943, “as an act of revenge against the Greek national resistance”. All the houses were burnt to the ground and the womenfolk left to bury the dead, often with their bare hands, in the frozen ground. There is an excellent museum with videos of survivors’ accounts of events and a memorial on the hill above the town. Tears were shed! I am currently reading Hitler’s book; “Mein Kampf”. Learning about and trying to understand the histories of the war. It doesn’t get any easier!
We headed back towards Patra on the 20th April and took the ferry to the mainland from Rio. The ferry cost us 11eu. Obviously it takes longer than driving over the bridge, but we were told the bridge costs at least double that – and we’re not in a hurry. The plan is to meander up the West coast of Greece and then take the ferry to Venice from Igoumenitsa…