KOSTAS PLENTY.....but worth it


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April 15th 2011
Published: April 18th 2011
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Wed 6....Having found our lovely spot on the beach at Stavros, on the bulgy bit east of Chania (Akrotiri Peninsula), where we stayed a couple of days, we made a move. Zig-zagging down to Souda, we then came back through Kalives where we’d been before and programmed TomTom in for Georgioupoli via the scenic route of the next sticky-out bit. Whilst the road was OK, the latter bit took us through tiny villages where there were only centimetres to spare either side. Georgioupoli is another place that would be packed in the season but at this time of year, reasonably attractive with a main square, a river and harbour and a long beach.

We found a taverna to meet our needs.....Gyros pitta, booze and Internet. After lunch we drove on to Rethymno and were generally disappointed. The weather was a bit overcast which doesn’t help but the old town lacked the charm of Chania, yet had all the tourist tat and bars. The walls of the formidable Venetian fortress which dominates the old town looked impressive but the inside was closed to visitors (don’t think there was much to see anyway). So we decided to move on from this place with its modern cafe chairs and graffiti covering most walls and find Camping Elizabeth a few miles out of town.

Camping Elizabeth is VERY low key. Apart from a sign at the entrance, there’s no other signage......reception? loos & showers? washing machine? anyone???? Finally a workman who spoke only Greek beckoned us to come with him, strolled over to a bland looking house and shouted Elizabeth! The Canadian/Greek Elizabeth finally appeared and got us sorted with all we needed to know.

Since use of the washing machine was our priority, despite it being after 7pm we finally (not without predictable hassles) got a load underway. This of course meant emptying the machine and hanging clothes was done in the dark, with the aid of a torch.

Thu 7....a day to remember my dear old mum. Gloomy weather, so a late start. Washing still damp so now festoons the van on hangers to dry out. Showers in a somewhat distant and dubious shower-block but at least clothes and bodies are clean. It was 11.45 when we sought out Elizabeth to pay-up and check-out.............she was still in her nightie! We finally set out, heading back towards Heraklion.......we have to cross back to Piraeus on Saturday night.

We took the coast road to Panormo, then came inland and followed a superb scenic route through beautiful mountainous yet green countryside and a mass of little villages. We stopped at Axos beside a magnificent view for an afternoon cuppa. No sooner had we put the kettle on than a local bus driver made us move on! Apparently of all the millions of places we could have stopped, we were in a bus stop..........a well kept secret to all, except the locals and the bus driver we suppose. There are that many signs in Greece, you’d think one more saying Bus Stop wouldn’t go amiss. Talking of signs, a good many are so graffitied as to be illegible and others are shot full of holes.....some of which are the size of golf balls....God knows how big their guns are!

Anyway we carried on, stopping at our former Heraklion garage to re-fill our gas bottle.............they were out of gas....but will have some tomorrow, definitely.(?) and arrived in one of the ginormous empty carparks at Knossos, so we’re on the spot for a visit tomorrow. The row of tat shops are all closed, as are the few tavernas..............we’ll see what happens tomorrow.

Fri 8....Fantastic weather, one of the best days we’ve had.........cloudless blue skies, temps in the high 70’s with a slight breeze......perfect for a few hours exploring the palace of Knossos. With relatively few people around and probably only six or so tour groups in the 4 hours we were there, it was easy to avoid others so we could wander and view at our leisure. There was only one English speaking guide with a group of about 20, probably from a cruise ship. We lingered on the fringes of their group for a while to gleam interesting details.

Needless to say it certainly is a fantastic place; amazing how advanced their civilisation was 2,000 years BC!! So, 4,000 ago they had running water & drainage, loos, bathrooms etc.....as well as wonderful artwork. And only about 100 years ago it was all buried and undiscovered, until Arthur Evans came along. Whilst Evans’ reconstruction of some of the buildings is controversial, either because he should have left things in state they were found or his reconstructions are only his conjecture...........it helps the tourist tremendously to be able to picture just how grand and enormous the place was. Some of the buildings (the royal apartments) were five stories high.....yet usually one is only seeing the first 2-6 foot of wall

After three hours or so of wandering and feeling fairly satisfied that we’d got an understanding of the site and what was where, we returned to the entrance for a drink......a beer and a glass of disgusting Retzina wine! We then took a final stroll back to the Central Court and the building leading off it, meandered down the Royal Road, then exited across the modern road for Stifado and chips at one of the tat/touristy bars........and very tasty it was.

With the weather still being so good, we headed for the beach just east of Heraklion in a little off-road place....very low-key. We stayed on the beach ‘til after 7pm and have decided to stay here for the night. The sun from Hymie’s window is within 10 minutes of setting and life is good!

Sat 9....Another gorgeous day and sadly our last on Crete. So after a lazy start and breakfast in the sun with a great view, we took 30 or so paces to the beach for more reading. A swim was tempting but the waves were still fairly rough.....instead another boules tournament, followed by a delicious seafood lunch, 40 paces away with an extremely good Grecian white wine.

After lunch we reluctantly departed for the petrol station in Heraklion to have the gas bottle topped up. From there to the port. We checked in for our 11pm crossing and asked to book 2 dorm beds (his & hers) at the $31 we’d been told when we arrived............only to be told the price had gone up to $54! So it seems we’ll be looking for floor space for the 6½ hr crossing (although the boat arrives at 5am, we can stay on board ‘til 9am if we want).

We then walked the short distance into Heraklion town, with the sun hot enough to be looking for shade! We began by seeking out the archaeological museum....guide books had said 7pm closing, leaflet at the port had said 5pm closing but it had in fact closed at 3pm! Being 4.15pm, we’d missed it....bugger! However we strolled on and came across a whole area around El Greco park, all pedestrianised and bursting with bars, restaurants and Greeks. So we sat for an hour or so amidst the conflicting music from each of the bars and the hum of chatter, sipping iced frappe coffees and people watching.........fascinating. Then more wandering around, including a few bits from a supermarket and back to the port and Hymie.

It’s 8pm Greek time and fairly shortly we’ll get the bikes off and cycle around to the Venetian port to find some gyros in pitta for supper. We need to board shortly after 10pm and sincerely hope that the weather in the Peloponnese is as good as it has been today.

Sun 10....So wonderful gyros supper at a scruffy pavement table near the port, then boarded at about 10pm. Up a 1 in 10, six foot wide slope, then the usual shouting and hand signals from the crew to manoeuvre us into position.

Armed with pillows and blankets we made a base in the lounge area on narrow but upholstered benches ..........musak playing through loudspeakers and two conflicting Greek soaps on various TV’s outdoing each other for long, lingering and pained looks set to mournful violin music. A steward waggled his finger at us to indicate that for two people, we were occupying too much space.............we were tempted to waggle TWO fingers back at him but instead, nodded agreement as we continued to spread ourselves out.

It was obvious that sleep here would be impossible, so after a quick rekky we found that on deck 9 (the posh cabins....all empty of course) there was a short spur corridor with a fire exit one side and a linen cupboard the other.....still fluorescently lit but quieter. By moving two laundry trolleys forward, we were able to make a camp behind. One of us slept very well from midnight to 7am.............the other managed to doze off fitfully between 3 and 5am, when a series of disembarkation announcements started. A steward finally found us at 7am, needing to get to the linen cupboard so we made a move, had a coffee and disembarked.

We took the motorway (at great expense) to Corinth, where we re-traced our steps and drove up to the Acrocorinth fortress on the mountain overlooking old and new Corinth, as well as the entire panorama.....at a height of 575 metres. Those of you paying attention will remember it was closed when we visited before crossing to Crete.

An empty carpark....bliss! With no-one about, not even a bod in the booth at the open gate....we climbed up the rocky path, through three imposing gates and into the main area....the whole being encircled with 2kms of wall. The only sound was the humming of the bees and the chirping of the birds. The entire site was thick with wild flowers....so much so that it was impossible to walk without crushing them underfoot.

From the central area we took a path to the SE corner to discover the Peirene Spring....an underground pool of water that has never been known to dry up. A steep staircase leads down to a 4th century BC arch and the turquoise pool of water. However.....the decent was in a way ‘blocked’ by swarms of bees. One of us was brave enough to go down, explore, see the arch and pool (with the bees still buzzing around even at that depth)...and one of us wasn’t!

By the time we found our way back around, a few more people had appeared, including a group of German students who yahooed at each other from one high point to another. However they soon moved on and we sat in silence on a rocky outcrop in the NW corner admiring old Corinth with Apollo’s temple and a wonderful vista of the coast below.

Once again, the great weather found us heading for a beach. So we set out SE across country to Loutro Elenis where we parked up on a little harbour with a few fish tavernas....all very Greek here, no English menus....in fact, no menus! We selected a table on the shingle beach, 7 foot from the water. Our fish meal (Red Mewlet (!) and A.N.Other fish) was delicious but very expensive. An afternoon sunbathing on the beach, then overnight on the harbour.

Mon 11....Driving through miles of undeveloped countryside....mountains, valleys, pine forests and views of the blue, blue sea, we arrived at Epidavros with its ancient theatre and extensive settlement. With a backdrop of rolling hills, this 14,000 seat arena built in 4th century BC, is truly magnificent.........apparently the acoustics are superb. Again by the look of the vast carparks this could get pretty crowded but we only had to share it with a minimal number of others.

Having explored to the full, relaxation in the sun beckoned, so we drove on to Karathena, just SE of Nafplio to a wonderful stretch of beach where we snoozed and read before settling in for an overnight stop.

Tue 12....Before moving on too far, we drove into the town of Nafplio with two fortresses on the hills behind and what a great place it was; a bit of everything....fortresses, narrow twisty streets, parks, central squares, great buildings and a harbour. We strolled around for an hour or so then moved on, stopping to do a supermarket shop. Then onwards towards Stemnitsa. For the first part of the journey the road was inches from the sea for several kms, then inland crossing mountains, interrupted by a fertile plateau where we drove through the busy town of Tripoli and onwards to eventually arrive at the charming hillside clinging town of Stemnitsa at 1,100m. The skies had clouded and it was quite chilly but a cappuccino in a cosy bar revived us for a good walk through, round, up and down the town. Back to the bar for more substantial liquid refreshment, we got chatting to an amusing Greek character who trades in stones....the precious type. He’s been everywhere and professed to have six wives and speak twelve languages. In an attempt to call his bluff, J tried him with a bit of French and German....his replies and accents were perfect. As we left, saying goodbye in as many languages as possible...J threw in a Quahari (Swahili) which astounded him as he also spoke Swahili. So that prompted another 20 minutes of Kenya chat.....we finally got away, moved the van to the outskirts of the town which, if there was no mist, would have a stunning view of the valley below. Let’s hope tomorrow is a clear day.

Wed 13....Our peek from our bedroom window confirmed it was a clear blue day. We took our mugs of coffee to the cliff edge to better enjoy the superb far-reaching views of the valley....with layers of mountains either side, diminishing in perspective.

By 11am we were in the delightful village of Dimitsana sitting at a rickety table on a slither of pavement outside a bar....two tables down from the local priest. Whilst these villages must be popular with the tourists, they’re 100% Greek. Even the souvenir shops have only Greek writing advertising their wares. Once again we meandered up & down and in& out of the maze of stepped paths. At one stage on the main road.....the one that local children play in, dogs sleep on and herds of sheep cross....we watched a mini drama of two enormous articulated lorries having to reverse through half the length of the village to let an oncoming coach through.

We were also befriended by a very old Greek man who was keen to chat, find out where we were from and if we liked his village. With limited knowledge of each others languages (despite lots of smiling and hand gestures) a local passer-by was accosted to translate. The old boy was insistent we visit the village library, which we did......an interesting collection of old books with plenty of pictures (though nothing much has changed) as well as a small museum area.

We finally moved on after lunch (eaten in Hymie with sheep almost peering through the door) heading due north for Kalavrita. Our drive was one of the most pleasurable we’ve done......following TomTom’s suggestion we descended into a valley (with an unexpected 4kms of very rough track half way along) and with the exception of a couple of tractors, no traffic. We passed farms and verdant rolling hills although we were still way above sea level. There were almost no towns or villages en route although we did stop for a Nescafe megalo (big) and a walk around in the town of Klitoria. Finally a zig-zag road took us up and over the mountains to descend into the town of Kalavrita.

We found the railway station for the rack & pinion train to take us through the Vouraikos gorge to Dhiakofto on the coast tomorrow. Having had a good look at this ski-resort town (where sadly 1436 men and boys were the victims of a reprisal Nazi massacre), we have parked for our overnight stop a few feet from the station..........so we shouldn’t miss the 9.57 departure.

Thu 14....What a perfect day in every respect. We took the little two-carriage train (being only 2 of 6 passengers) and travelled for about an hour through the gorge to Dhiakofto, passing through the station at Zakhlorou. The route follows the course of the rive Vouraikos, which meanders and at times cascades over the rocks. Wider views included snow-capped mountains and the tops of the impossibly high gorge cliffs, tunnels and lovely woodland with numerous wild flowers and trees full of blossom, made it a wonderful journey.

In Dhiakofto we had a 15 minute turn-around (we had explored the town back in March).....just time for a ciggy and to buy coffee and chocolate to take back on board. This time we got off at Zakhlorou and without a soul around embarked on the steep very rough donkey track up to the Monastery of Mega Spileou (the oldest in Greece) .........what a walk! It took us just under an hour and in the latter stages, we could see the Monastery still towering above us.

At the top, the only people around were a couple from the train (they had driven up!) We feared we may have been too late (closed 1-3pm) to view the chapel and cave..........the monastery is. However an ancient monk appeared and allowed the four of us into the tiny chapel with its charred black wax image of the Virgin, said to have been made by St Luke and after to the cave beyond.

We finally retraced our steps (carefully) down the mountains disturbing a large flock of sheep sleeping in the sun. They careered down the path to settle again, which meant we caught up with them again. They continued this silly behaviour 5 or 6 times, so that eventually, at the bottom of the path they charged over the railway line and disappeared into the village. Their poor shepherd is probably still looking for them.

With over an hour until the last train back to Kalavryta at 3.10pm, we sat at a table in the sun at the Romantzo Taverna for lunch. The taverna, set just above the river is one side of the railway line, the tables on the other! Being the only customers we were well looked after with a carafe of Rose, a Greek Salad and a superb omelette..........all for 15 euros.

The train duly arrived and we enjoyed the 2nd half of the trip back, before speaking out the picnic rug in the sun to read for a couple of hours. Great day...........and thanks to my sister Annie for recommending this trip, we thought of you often today and raised a glass at lunchtime.

Fri 15....Leaving Kalavryta under blue skies we took a fantastic route marked as scenic on the map to Patras. The map didn’t lie, it was a marvellous journey.........some roads very good, some more bumpy. We drove through a green, green valley with snow-capped mountains at the end and a number of delightful villages to squeeze through. Needless to say at times there were many sharp corners and though this road is no different to others we’ve been on, the little shrines that families put by the roadside, marking the spot where their loved one died. This time we counted them until about 8 miles from Patras, when we got to 108, we stopped.

TomTom took us straight to the port where we parked up to check-in. There were several shifty looking men hanging about the other side of the tall railing topped with barbed wire. Having locked and walked away from the van, we felt so uneasy that J went back to watch the van, whilst B checked in. Sure enough one of these bods was on his hands and knees looking under the van for a place to stow-away. We reported it to the police who said “yes we know, it’s a problem”! but did nothing. We later saw more of these guys scaling the fence or bending the bars to squeeze through. We moved the van to a more secure spot at the boarding area and went off to enjoy our last Greek meal in a port cafe a few feet away.........delicious of course.

We boarded and parked up in the “Camping-on-deck” area where we can stay in Hymie but have full access to the ship. Our journey to Ancona, Italy will take about 20 hours, arriving tomorrow at about 10.30am. It’s quite a good set up and we’re happily settled in....though we do seem to be above the engines which makes for a rattly, vibrating and droning environment..........perhaps it will lull us to sleep!

Our Route (overnight stops in capital letters)
Since STAVROS; Horafakia; Souda; Almirido; Kefalas; Georgioupoli; Rethimon; MISSIRIA (Camping Elizabeth)
Stavromenos; Panormo; Perama; Axos; Anogia; Tilissos; Gazi; KNOSSOS
AMINOSSOS
Heraklion; OVERNIGHT FERRY to Piraeus
Corinth; Acrocorinth; LOUTRO ELENIS
Epidavros; Ligourio; Nafplio; KARATHENA
Nafplio; Mili; Agiorgitika; Tripoli; Hrissovitsi; STEMNITSA
Dimitsana; Vitina; Sela; Klitoria; Kato Loussi; KALAVRITA
Train to Diakofto & return, stop at Zakhlorou; KALAVRITA
Kato Viassia; Kalanistra; Helandritsa; Patra, OVERNIGHT FERRY TO ANCONA, ITALY



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18th April 2011

Some Adventure!
Knossos brings back memories. So it's countdown to getting home and a new baby. Safe journey and take care.

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