Second week touring Bulgaria

bulgaria

14/05/2018 Klisura

It has been quite a day today. We left Sofia and headed for Plovdiv. This City is situated in southern Bulgaria and is surrounded by hills. Its biggest claim to fame is the ancient Roman theatre which is among the best preserved ancient theatres in the world. It once could accommodate 5,000 spectators and was only discovered by the archaeologists during a survey carried out in 1968-1979. Another claim to fame is that in 2019, Plovdiv will become the European City of Culture.

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The traffic was pretty busy on the way out of Sofia and we had to do a stop to get some fuel. My wallet was extra pleased because the diesel worked out to the equivalent of £1.02 per litre. After a couple of hours driving we parked up in a Billa supermarket car park and walked into the centre. As soon as we arrived we came across a group of dancers in national costume performing in front of a large crowd.

As they danced children brought around delicious bread along with a bowl of honey as a dip. What a great start to our visit. Just across the road was the visitor centre so we got a map of the city.

Just behind the mosque we saw another Roman part excavation of what would have been a huge stadium.

 

P1020457.JPG The rest of it is still buried under the city. Up one of the hills we came to the Roman Theatre and you can see where the new parts have been added to make it a usable open-air theatre.

P1020480.JPGWe came across some typical Bulgarian style houses and then we came across a monument to remember the atrocities that the people from the city had had to endure from the Russians.

P1020466.JPGThe whole city demonstrates a prosperity that we do not see in many of the villages that we see and pass through. Just as we saw in Sofia, the capital; it appears that money is spent in the urban areas whilst the rural villages go begging.

We left Plovdiv and we still had quite a journey to get to our stopping place for the night. We are not sure why but the weather here seems to do exactly the opposite to the weather that is forecast. Today was hot and sunny and the stormy day only materialised on our way to Klisura.

Behind the motorhome you can see a row of field guns, so we felt we could have defended ourselves against marauding Bulgarians if my ex-army mate, Tom, was back travelling with us again. We enjoyed a quiet night playing RummiKub and skyping with friends.

15,16,17,18/05/2018 Vileko Turnovo

The reason we had stopped at Klisura is because we then only had 18 km to get to Koprivshtitsa. If you ever consider coming to Bulgaria, then this town is a “must see” place to visit. It lies 62 miles east of Sofia and is 3000 feet above sea level and is considered to be one of Bulgaria’s most attractive towns due to its many National Revival Houses. Bandits plundered the town in the early 19th century and set many of the houses alight. It was at the time of the re-building that the colourful wood and stone houses were built.

So, we left our stopping place for the night and first drove down to look at the statue we had spotted from our van.P1020501.JPG

We then started our drive to Koprivshtitsa. It soon took us along a beautiful, narrow forest lined road with a bubbling brook running the whole length to the village. In places the sun overhead managed to get through the canopy of trees and this is driving at its best. As we drove along we saw large, attractive signs with the date of 1876 on them? This was the year of the April Rising. Bulgaria had been ruled by the Turks for 500 years. The revolution was planned in Koprivshtitsa and many of the revolutionaries lived there. The ensuing massacre after the failed attempt encouraged the West and Russia to come in and throw the Turks out.

We spent a couple of hours visiting this beautiful town and as you can see from the sample of the many photographs I took, the description that this is an attractive town is quite apt.

 

We left and of course that meant driving back down the narrow, meandering road. We set a course for Veliko Tarnovo which is the on the north side of the range of Balkan mountain range that run from the east to the west of the country. We chose to cross the Beklemoto (Troyan) mountain pass. As we climbed, the road zig-zagged back and forth up the side of the mountain. The first picture shows the view down at 4,700 ft up

P1020541and the second fairly hazy shot down shows the same view from just under 5,700 ft.

P1020543.JPGAs we approached the peak of the pass, we could see at the top a large Archway.

P1020544.JPGWhilst we were getting closer to it, Elaine went on her phone and found that it was the Arch of Liberty. It was built to commemorate the time in 1944 when Bulgaria quit the German Axis and pronounced neutrality to stop the threat of the Russian Red army and is dedicated to the liberation struggle of the Bulgarians.

Overall, our journey was 156 miles for the day. We finally pulled into the very pretty campsite Camping Veliko Tarnovo, built and owned by an English couple Nick and Nicky. What a luxury campsite and once we had set up, we sat chatting with them and learnt all sorts about Bulgaria, and about their life here. The campsite has an off season offer; stay four nights and only pay for three of them. We have been tearing about since we have been in Bulgaria, so we decided to take up the offer. On the second day, again the threatened thunderstorm didn’t happen until during the night and the sun shone all day.  We just walked into local village and chilled for the rest of the day. We arranged for a taxi to pick us up in the morning for the ten-minute journey into Veliko Tarnovo.  To take us to what the guide book tells us is one of Bulgaria’s most beautiful cities.

In the morning we shared the taxi ride in with a German couple. We were all going to join the free walking tour of the city which would start at 11am. We were joined by a few others, and the guide, Ptsami (I think that is how it is spelt), took us over the road for the start of the tour. Her English was perfect, and she had a nice way with her, and she was very keen for us all to understand the politics and the history of the country. To try to cram in everything she wanted to say in the 2 ½ hours meant she spoke, remarkably, quickly for someone speaking a foreign language. She took us to places where we could see all the places that were mentioned in our guide book.P1020569.JPGThe view over the huge castle was fantastic and explained that that was, when Bulgaria was a monarchy, the king’s palace.

Veliko Turnova has a particularly strong history because until recently was the capital city of the country. The communists, when they took over power, after the Balkan War, thought they would get Macedonia back as part of their territory. So, they made Sofia the capital because it would then be in the middle of the enlarged country. The only thing is, their land grab didn’t happen. Ptsami obviously had no love for the communists but said that in the country this love or hate split families. She spoke proudly about the country’s history and about other things that made her proud. We learnt that Bulgaria, when it was part of the German Axis, during the Second World War, was one of the few countries that didn’t hand over its Jews to be sent into concentration camps.

Another thing we learnt is that Bulgarians nod their heads when they say no and shake their heads to say yes. Throughout the tour she kept asking questions and the confusion that caused in the little group was very funny. Maybe it shows what a contrary nation they are.

I will let the photographs show some of the things we saw. However, an explanation of the geography of the city will explain some of the pictures. The whole city is built between large hills and each one of those are named. For instance, the hill with the castle is called Royal Hill because of the palace. The mighty River Yancey meanders between the different hills. As the city expanded over the years, then then many of the houses have been built, almost clinging to the sides of the hills. You will see from the pictures, this backdrop to the city is a wonderful panorama.P1020594.JPGAfter the tour had ended, we stopped in a small inn and had a wonderful meal, with Bulgarian wine. My mixed grill was one of the best I have ever had, and the bill came to the equivalent of £15. Yet another reason why we are loving Bulgaria so much.

Friday, before moving on, we had a right clear out of the van. The staff at the campsite are all delighted. From the start of our tour, we always promised each other that if we buy something new, then we would give away what we now find surplus to our needs. The last time we saw a charity shop was in Spain. Our storage was full to the brim. We asked Nick and Nicky if it was appropriate if we donated to the staff our hand downs. The lady cleaner was close to tears with her thanks and we were shown photos of her wearing Elaine’s puffer jacket and then her red cardigan. She wanted to go home that night and bake us a big friendship cake, but we were going to leave early in the morning.

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Whilst a lot of you were preparing for a day in front of the television watching first the Royal Wedding and then the cup final, we moved on just a bit further, before driving to the sea side resorts on the Black sea. We crossed down over the mountains again to come to Nova Zagora and are now parked in front of a huge lake.

P1020610.JPG The whole area, with its many lakes, looks just like the Lake District at home, but without the rain. On the way through we saw field after field of rosebushes with Romany people in the fields picking the petals. We are now in the Valley of the Roses. It may surprise you to know that this region produces 17,000 tons of rose petals a year and most are exported all around the world, mainly to the cosmetic industries. We passed large lorries being loaded with bag after bag of petals.

The reason this region is perfect for rose growing is because of the very sandy soil. I found out that to my cost. When we arrived at the campsite I wanted to turn around, so we had the door facing the beautiful lake. My front wheel just went off the stony roadway and sank. It took half an hour, and the help from the German, parked in his van close by, to get us on hard ground again. I always say that if I had been born a cormorant, I would have starved to death long ago. I got my fishing rods from the top of the van, but I have to report another blank score sheet. However, I was highly entertained by the small birds washing themselves in the shallows, close by.P1020605.JPG

I know I am going to get in trouble for this but I do know I have to add just a couple of the recent photos to show the true nature of Elaine, my wife.

So far it is only wooden and bronze guys that get her attention, Anybody out there think I should keep an eye on her?

We have already moved to Sozopol, on the black sea and it is from here that I am sending this blog. Don’t miss the next thrilling adventure as we move up the coast to get into Romania. I think I will stop here as it is becoming like an intro to an American comic adventure.

 

 

 

Our first days in Bulgaria

P1020296.JPG09/05/2018 Kromidovo, Bulgaria

We drove 151 miles to get to our first stop, here in Bulgaria. Brian and Wendy, our travelling partners and our friends, have decided to make their way back to Italy to continue their route back into Germany and beyond.

Just over the border we stopped at an office to buy a vignette to allow us onto the main roads and motorways in Bulgaria. The chap was a Liverpool supporter and was obviously very passionate about his football. He then came out to our van to place the vignette himself in exactly the correct place on our windscreen. The roads were nottoo bad on our way up to Kromidovo until we came to the village itself. One mph was too fast to drive along the main street; the potholes being more like bomb craters. Mind you, I have just read an article about the appalling potholes in the UK and the problems they are causing.

Our first campsite cost us the equivalent to £9 and was so friendly and we were introduced to everyone else on the site by the English lady who was the stand in for an English couple who own the site. What a great idea, in no time we were chatting with everyone and a young German couple turned up and spent the time in our van chatting about our and their travels and their fantastic photography. Steffi also told us where we should visit on our travels through Germany en route to England and our way home.

10/05/2018 The car park of the Rila Monastery.

We left the campsite and headed for Melnik which is the local town. The information we had from the campsite said there was an ATM there.  What a fascinating place.

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We visited the 250 year old Kordopoulov house and saw the wine museum and the pyramids which are the peaks of the sandstone hills that surround the town.P1020321.JPGBulgaria is known for its fine wines and every shop sold bottles at ridiculously low prices. Unfortunately, the spa baths are not open yet and, and here I do have to be honest, the weather here is not good even though we have not started climbing the mountains yet. We are not enjoying the same temperatures we were getting in Greece.

We left Melnik and at first headed for Bansko. Bansko is a Bulgaria’s biggest ski centre and we were supposed to be stopping at a camperstop just by the ski lift.

When we got there, the site was closed. We had a look around and managed to find the old town that the book said was a good place to see. The most noticeable things we saw were, the stork with its massive nest on top of the church tower and the huge statue of a monk.

The rain had started falling so we headed back to the van and headed for a camp site just passed the Rila Monastery, way up on the Rila mountain. By that time, I had already driven quite a bit, so I was pleased to arrive at Camping Bor.

It was deserted, run down and then we saw an old man who looked more like a tramp than a campsite owner. We decided not to stay so we went back to the car park of the monastery. We asked the security guard and he said it was OK for us to stay on the car park for the night. It was so remote there that there was not even passing traffic but we had pour own private guard for the night.  All we could hear were the owls and the roaring of the raging river that passed nearby. The only thing was that we were over 6,000 ft above sea level in the middle of a remote forest and I had to put the heating on. After the warmth we had been used to in Greece, it came as a bit of a shock.

11/05/2018 Sapareva Banya

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In the morning, the rain had stopped so we walked over to enter the monastery. From the outside, the mighty walls make it look as though it would make a good castle. It is impressive enough outside but as soon as you get through the western gate you then see the several floors of highly painted wooden balconies that run all the way around the interior.

P1020353.JPG However, your eyes are immediately drawn to the courtyard’s dominant feature; the Church of the Nativity.P1020351.JPG

I will let the pictures be the description. We went inside and just wondered at the riches on show in such a poor country.

Photography was not allowed in the church itself, so we went to the “religious icons shop”, just over from the church to get a booklet that would show what the inside of the church looked like. The man charged me 4 BGN (about £1.70) for the only book or booklet they had in English. When I took it over to Elaine she noticed that it had a price on it of 3 BGN. I couldn’t stop laughing. Of all the places to be ripped off, it shouldn’t happen in a monastery.

Our next stop was at the foot of this mountain range, but over the other side. It took us 56 miles to take us to get around to Sapareva Banya which as a crow flies, is only about 5 mile away. At first we followed a narrow road across farmland and through sleepy villages where the sight of our motorhome drew lots of attention. Sometimes when we got smiles, we would wave and smile back.

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We pulled up at the small campsite and went off to visit the town. It’s main claim to fame is the “Geyser Fountain”. It is the record holder of the hottest mineral water in Bulgaria and Continental Europe with a water temperature of 103 degrees centigrade which erupts naturally. We walked up close and the water is hot but despite being clear and colourless, has a smell of hydrogen sulphide.

We tried a couple of bars on the way back and a large glass of great Bulgarian wine, red or white, cost under a £1. That evening we had a meal at the campsite and cannot believe how far your money goes here. The young German couple we met when we came into Bulgaria turned up as we were eating; we had a chat, then they went off to pitch their tent.

12th & 13th/05/2018 Sofia (the Bulgarian capital city)

After just 36 miles we pulled into Ivan’s garden which he has turned into a camper stop. His cottage is in one corner and here we can get all the services we need and there is a very strong Wi-Fi signal. In a metal shed there is a very quaint toilet and shower arrangement (the hot water hasn’t been connected up yet) but it is safe, and Ivan is very friendly and helpful. You can see the nearest underground station from his garden. Once set up, we walked the short distance to the station of the very modern underground system and paid the equivalent of £0.72 each to get into the centre.

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There were Roman ruins as soon as we got out of the station and unlike most places, you can walk inside the ancient walls. Throughout the city we found information boards are mostly in Bulgarian and English, so it was easy to find our way around and to know what we were looking at.

Sofia is a small capital city with a population of around a 1,000,000 people. The buildings have completely diverse influences to their design and structure. The monumental buildings from the communist era in downtown Sofia and the huge sports stadium contrast completely to the Orthodox churches, to what is described as an Art Nouveau Synagogue while Roman, medieval and Ottoman era structures. Downtown Sofia also has large parks and were full of people and families enjoying their Saturday there

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P1020379.JPGThis is Sofia, she replaced a statue of Lenin. much prettier, I am sure.

Despite the dire weather prediction, the weather was great. We walked around and around every corner was another reason for me to get my camera out again. We had a great late, lunch and enjoyed talking to the young Bulgarian waiter about living in this city. We continued our walking tour and are left to wonder how many steps we took around the capital. I am going to leave the pictures to show just a few places and things we saw.

One very nice thing happened near the station. A group of people dressed in Roman garb had a small tent and were aiming to set up a peace wall. A slab of clay was on offer so a message, in your own words, can be written on it. Once fired, these bricks with messages from Bulgarians and tourists would be put together to make the wall. The picture shows our contribution.

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Later-on, we were told that they were going to put on a play-let whilst dressed in Roman Garb. We went back but unfortunately the words were all in Bulgarian so after taking a few pictures we left to continue our walk around the city.

Finally, the promised rain started so we headed back to the station to catch the train back. We had a magnificent day and a very tiring one. To use the words of the great Bruce Forsythe, whilst compering Strictly Come Dancing, Sofia is now my “favourite” capital city. We are loving Bulgaria and our only sadness is that Brian and Wendy didn’t come with us when we crossed the border.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our last days in Greece

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27/04/2018 Ponteleimon

The drive to Ponteleimon was a very easy 85 miles to get to this very small coastal town. It definitely looks as though a lot of the residents rely on the tourist trade in one way or another. We are in need of cash, but the ATM only works in the tourist season. Elaine and I walked towards the castle at the end of the beach.

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It doesn’t look real as it all looks too neat and tidy. We sat and had a drink at a bar and asked the bar man about the castle. Him and his friends all got their mobile phones out and came to tell us that it is genuine as it was built in the 12th century. We had a quiet evening and for once, quite an early night.

28/04/2018 Eparchaiki

We temporarily said our goodbyes to Brian and Wendy and went off on a search for cash. This is another small town and we found a newly set up ATM, but it hadn’t been turned on. We drove past all the bars and tavernas and between the town and the small port we came across a convenient car park which became our stop for the night. Just as well I am not reliant on my fishing skills to put food in our mouths. I fished for a couple of hours without luck.

In the evening a tubby man kept walking up and down, staring at our motorhome. We weren’t worried about him, he probably just wanted a chat but was too shy to approach us. P1020088.JPGIn the morning four pelicans came gliding across the bay and went right up to a fishing boat as if cadging for tasty tit bits from the fisherman. I got some nice pictures and their presence made that night’s stop very worthwhile.

29/04/2018 The Olympic Beach, Katerini

We drove back around 12 miles to go into a town to find a working cash machine. Right in the centre we were spoilt for choice and drew out some euros. We then followed the signs to get to the Olympic Beach. It is so called because snow covered Mount Olympus dominates the area.

P1020091.JPGWe drove along beside the long, sandy beach and parked right beside a mini church.

Very convenient if either of us decide that we are in need of some spiritual guidance.

After walking around the restaurant area, we went back to the van and spent the afternoon sunbathing on the beautiful beach. Once again there were no other motorhomes around. During the very quiet night, Elaine was woken by a car stopping very close to us. She took a peak and all it was, was a couple of sinners (possibly) stopping to light candles in the church.

30/04/2018 Vergina.

We headed inland and after 93 miles we arrived at a protected yard owned by a very enterprising Greek man. He had a tarmacked yard that for 7 euros ith electric you could park for the night. Vergina has recently become a tourist hot spot. As recently as 1977, archaeologists celebrated the most significant historic and archaeological event of the 20th century.

P1020115.JPGThey started investigating a mound and now people come from around the world to see the gold and priceless artefacts discovered there. We were here to see the Ancient Cemetery of Aegae, known as The Royal Tombs. The experts say it is the tomb of Philip 11, the great Marshall and the King of Macedonia. He was assassinated and him, his favourite dogs, his best horses and everything he would need for the afterlife were put on the pyre and burnt. Apparently, his wife walked into the pyre voluntarily, so she could be with him. All his treasures were then sealed in the tomb with him.

We paid our euros and descended down into the tomb. The rule was no photography at all. As I was carrying my camera I was followed throughout by a very hefty looking lady, guard. The few pictures I show here were taking from a book we had to purchase which I presume is the reason for the rule.

The treasures we saw took our breath away.

1st and 2nd/05/2018 Nea Mondenia

The next morning, we left and headed off to catch up with the Aussies. We had to drive on the ring road around Thessaloniki. We pulled off the main road and parked up in a street and by chance we were only about ¾ of a mile from the centre. We walked down to the waterfront and then followed that along until we reached the famous White Tower.

P1020128.JPGThe tower itself has had lots of names. When it was used as a prison and a place of execution it was called the Black Tower. A prisoner who was held there volunteered to paint it white to gain his freedom.

It was the Mayday public holiday, so the crowds were out, and the bars and restaurants were full. The beautiful warm sunny day meant that there were people promenading everywhere. One of the few shops that was open was the Nuts Factory.

What a great concept and what a colourful shop. The highlight of the short visit was the chap sitting at the water’s edge playing an accordion and then he picked up a trumpet and played that whilst still playing the accordion with his right hand.

P1020135.JPGThe sound was magical. We put some money in his cap and he asked us where we were from. For us he did a fantastic rendition of “When the saints go marching in”.

We all know that Greece as a country is very impoverished. At the moment they are going through the process of going cap in hand for another huge loan to keep their economy afloat.P1020146.JPG By the look of the huge, magnificent bank building we saw in Thessaloniki the banks have plenty of money even if the rest of the country are struggling. Once we had had a good look round the water side of the city, we made our way back to the van to continue our journey.

We met up with Brian and Wendy and stayed at Nea Mondenia for two days. On the second day I did a tiny bit for the environment. I went snorkelling again and collected all the plastic I could see off the sea bed.

03/05/2018 Nea Potida

the three fingers

We drove just a few miles down to stop at Nea Potida which is just over the bridge from the first finger. There are three fingers (three peninsulas) Kassandra, Sithonia and Athos. The first and second peninsulas are navigable but the third is uniquely different. It is an autonomous state ruled by 1,700 monks who live in the 20 monasteries that live there. Only men can visit Athos and even then, it is by invitation only. At the moment the waiting time to get a visit is over a year. I will write about Athos and the holy mountain of Mount Athos when I explain about the boat trip we took in a few days’ time.

Our time in Greece is running all too short so we spent the day driving around the first finger. We saw great bays and beautiful scenery. Now wish we had left more time to thoroughly explore these peninsulas. The highlight of the day was quite a strange one. We stopped by the side of the road outside quite a large building. The people came out and we thought they were going to tell us off for parking on their land. Far from it. The invited us in for coffee. The building used to be a chandlers which had been ran by the family for years. They were in the process in turning the whole place into holiday lets. We turned up, just as they were just discussing the brochure and internet advertising they had to do. What is the right English description for what they were going to be offering? At that moment two English vans arrive on their frontage. Hence the invitation. They seemed pleased with the wording we suggested after a tour of the very high-class conversion they were undertaking.

We completed the whole circuit of the first finger and returned to Nea Potida to wild camp there for the night. We went over to a taverna that evening and had a superb Greek meal. The owner’s son who was serving us told us where to go to get tickets for the boat trip to see the monasteries.

4th & 5th /05/2018 Vouvoura

We drove off to a local town to get our boat tickets for Saturday. Just up from the town Square was a very fancy church so, of course, I left the others in the travel shop, so I could get the picture I wanted.P1020150.JPG

We decided to stay at a campsite, so we had safe places to leave our vans whilst out all day on the boat the next day. What a beaut spot (sorry about that, I have been around the Australians too long). Vouvoura is in the Gulf of Agion Oros and is totally protected from the elements by the island that lays in front of it. A sand spit lays out into the bay and the water is crystal clear. Out came the snorkel and mask. Another swim was called for. We arranged for a taxi to pick us up at 8.30 the next morning.

We were nice and early at the port at Ormos Panagias.

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It wasn’t very long before we were on board, so we headed upstairs. The brochure said the boat would take us across until level with the 6,660 ft holy Mount Athos and then take us back up alongside the peninsula so we could see the 10 monasteries on this side. So, as we were first on the boat we sat on the right had side of the boat to guarantee a great view. This was our second mistake that day.

The four of us have been so used to the beautiful warm weather that we didn’t think to take anything warm to wear. Almost as soon as the boat set off, the sun went behind clouds and people all around us started putting on their coats they had brought with them. It was freezing but we were loathed to go downstairs in case we lost our great seats. Elaine and Wendy went off and came back with blankets the crew had for idiots like us.IMG_3393.jpgMistake two was that the contrary captain headed straight for the first monastery and the commentary would start there. Now we would be on the wrong side of the boat.

After a bit the sun emerged from the clouds and it started warming up. Then some dolphins came around the boat and the two hundred or so people all rushed over to our side of the boat and the boat leaned over alarmingly. You will see some of the pictures I took and the commentary told of the some of the riches held by each of the monasteries. We were told one had a piece of the actual cross that Jesus was crucified on.

 

On the way back the boat stopped at a small village for a break and all the shopkeepers and restaurant staff did their best to get us to come in and spend money in their establishment. We were thoroughly entertained by two girls doing Greek dancing accompanied by a chap playing a beautifully decorated bouzouki.

P1020240.JPG Of course, Elaine couldn’t stop herself from Joining in.

Once, before we started our travels, the campsite at Sutton Hargrave in North Yorkshire has always been one of our favourite peaceful retreats with great views. After a brilliant day we returned to yet another fabulous camping place to enjoy another swim and then an evening with some Dutch people who were parked just across from us. Where does that Yorkshire farm come in our list of memorable places to take our motor home.

06/05/2018 Sarti

Today we started around Sithonia, the second finger. Hard to describe really. Rugged landscape would have to be part of the description. Very narrow, often sand covered roads would take you down to fabulous sandy coves. We went into Sarti a small town, halfway down the east side. Just on we finally found our way down to an ideal sandy haven we spotted from the road above to enjoy the total peace and tranquillity we found there. So, we stopped there for the night.

7th & 8th /05/2018 Nikiti

We continued the circular journey and called into Sykia which is the only town not on the coast. Further on we followed yet another sandy road that finally got us onto a beach. Another small road took us down to a small harbour and there, as well as all the boats, we saw a memorial to four airman that were killed in a helicopter crash.

After a great day we pulled into Nikiti where we will prepare for our crossing over the border into Bulgaria.

More snorkelling and I have seen more fish during a swim than I have seen anywhere else. The evidence of the many sea urchins just shows how clean the water is here.fish.PNG

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So tomorrow it will be good bye to Greece and hello to Bulgaria. We have a bit of a plan and we will end up at the resorts on the Dead Sea before crossing the next border into Romania.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think we have found paradise

19th-27th/04/2018

We were up, ready to leave our camping place at Athens at the un-earthly hour of 07.30. Why? So many people use the back streets to park; to catch the train into Athens. The streets are narrow anyway. With all the cars parked either side of the road; it would be impossible to drive our motorhomes through, to get onto the main road. The only way is to drive the wrong way up a shortish stretch of a one-way road. We left early in the hope we wouldn’t meet anybody coming the other way. All exciting stuff and not quite the thing I am used to doing. All went well turning onto the main road but the downside of leaving early is that we got caught in Greece’s capital city, rush hour traffic. We all felt that we had had enough of ancient relics and that we all needed a bit of beach time.

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We drove to Sikia, in the Pelion region, which is situated in the Pegasetic Gulf. When we got to the campsite we were lucky enough to get two pitches, side by side, right by the beach. Instantly, we knew we had found paradise. The campsite is one of the best we have stayed on anywhere. The Gulf is protected on all four sides, so the sea barely gets up more than a ripple. The water is so clear that it is a perfect swimming place. There is a great restaurant and bar and the shop had just been opened when we arrived. The weather now is constant blue skies and sunny, and the temperature in the shade is averaging around 28 degrees centigrade each day.

P1010946 Almost immediately we got chatting with the other campers in the area we were in. We were made to feel at home which certainly doesn’t happen quite so much at other sites we have been on.

There is a convenience store on the main road and either side of Sikia there are restaurants and beach bars at Kato Gatzea on one side and Kala Nera on the other side. Both small villages are within easy walking distance. Every hour and a half, a bus runs each way passed the campsite. One way takes you down the Pelion region and the other takes you into Volos. Volos is a coastal, port city situated 205 miles north of Athens and 137 miles south of Thessalonika and is the capital of the region.

Mount Pilio dominates the sky line and everyone warned us against taking our motorhomes up the mountains to visit the bays on the other side. Our first bus trip took us to Argalisti so we could go to the weekly market that is held there. We got some great views as we were driven quite high up the mountain range to get to the small town.P1010964

After the market and our walk around the town we went to a café in the square and enjoyed some more of the Greek cuisine. Sometimes, it is pot luck if you get what you think you have ordered. One habit that the Greeks have is that they drop food off their plates to feed the many stray cats and dogs that hang around everywhere. That means you are pestered by the strays whenever food is brought to your table.

We became quite adept about taking the bus into Volos and the centre is about 14 km from the campsite. We had thought about getting a boat trip from one of the many boats tied up on the water fronts. but learnt that we were just a bit early to find what we wanted.

P1020020.JPG We now know that it is the 1st of May and onward when the tourists start flocking to the area. The boat owners were busy readying their crafts for the busy season to come. Many campsites do not open until the 1st and some do not open until the 15th of the month. Volos is a bustling city and if you enjoy shopping then you will enjoy Volos.

The similarity between Greece and Spain is that they both have great climates. The big difference is the way the people treat us. We have found that once the Greeks get from behind the wheel of their cars they become such nice people. Already, in the six weeks we have been here, we have witnessed and received help, smiles and waves. Take this one example. Whilst enjoying a great Greek meat dish I bit down on a hidden bone. I broke a tooth. We went into Volos looking for a dentist. We searched in vain and we asked the waiter if he knew where I could get help. He asked a chap who was enjoying a coffee and he came over to help. The proprietor then phoned the dentist and handed me the phone. He said he would see me straight away. Then a map was drawn for me and off I went. It was not easy to find so I went to the fire station with all the firemen sitting around waiting for the next shout. I got smiles and greeting from all the men and the chap from the office came out and walked me down the street chatting away like he had known me forever. The dentist did a great job and the problem was over.

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Back on the campsite we enjoyed the swimming and the friendliness of the campers around us. One couple I must mention are Luigi and Elanor. Luigi is Italian and Elanor is Russian. What a fascinating couple and are both multilingual. We were introduced to their friends, Jim and Sue who live in the next village and Barrie who lives with his cats up in the mountains above us.

IMG_3333We all spent a wonderful afternoon together enjoying tsipoura (a Greek spirit) together. Each time another round came out, the more complementary meze food was put on the table. Later we visited Jim and Sue’s house to round off the afternoon drinking wine in their front garden.

We were reluctant to leave this paradise of a site, so we hired a car for two days, so we could explore the area further. The first day we drove down almost to the tip.  The roads were almost deserted, and we got great views and further down we could see the sea either side of the peninsula.

When we got to Trikeri we stopped at a tabepna (a bar) right on the edge of the town that had a terrace with a fabulous view.

P1020044.JPGWe went on down to the very end to Agia Kyriaki. Unfortunately, the only way back was to drive all the way back on the same road. It had been another hot day, so a swim was the order of the day.

The next day we headed up Mount Pilio, the mountain that dominates the whole area. The map showed the whole route as a series of very severe sharp bends and we were heading for some of the small towns and villages on the east side. In lots of places the roadway had collapsed and in others it looked like repairs had been started, but never finished. All along the route we could see the little religious houses signifying where another Greek had lost their life because of the way they drive.

P1020049Ironically, the speed limit all over the mountain is 90km an hour and we were passed by maniacs doing that speed or more. Periodically we would pass a hamlet or small village and it was a wonder why people should choose to live up there. Going down is as bad as going up, but finally we reached the first of the small sea side resorts and stopped for coffee. We continued to the adjoining seaside village, Damouchari  which was one of the locations for the filming of Mama Mia. None of the towns link up so you have to drive back up to the road along the top before getting to the next steep road going downwards. At one stage the sat nav wanted to take us onto a very narrow dirt road to continue onward but we turned around to find a better route.

We then came to a village right by the ski centre and had a great meal before heading back to the camp.

In the morning we headed into Volos to return the car and dropped Wendy and Elaine off to get to a hairdresser. Brian and I went off to find the station and saw all these abandoned old locos.

We then all returned to the camp to prepare for the off the next day. All good things must come to an end sometime. We said our goodbyes to all the people we had met whilst there.

As the weather has been so good we have had some quite nice sunsets. Here are a sample of the many such pictures I have taken.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The more we see, the more we love Greece

P1010689.JPG14th-16th April 2018 Ancient Corinth

We moved on from Kalamata and headed towards Corinth and Athens. We were on our way to a small campsite at old Corinth that we had great reports of. We were not disappointed. The site was great. There was everything we needed. On top of the showers, toilets and emptying facilities they had their own wine and olive oil for sale at cheap prices. We didn’t feel mean when we only bought one bottle when we arrived. It wasn’t long before we found out why this campsite gets such rave reviews. Spiros (the owner of the campsite) and his daughter came to see us, shortly after we arrived. He offered to take us out for the day in his car to see all the local sites. He quoted a price and we readily agreed. The next day we would meet him at his car.

Within a quarter of a mile of the camp entrance is the site of Ancient Corinth. This city was razed by the Romans in 146 BC. A century later it was rebuilt to hold a population of 750,000 people. The village around the ancient monument site now probably houses no more than 750 people. However, before we got to the site itself we passed lots of eating places and shops selling souvenirs. As senior citizens from an EEC country we get, everywhere, reduced entry prices.

The most dominating structure is the Temple of Apollo. Later we went to the terrace of one of the bar / restaurants and from here we got a panoramic view of the whole site which constitutes the largest Roman township in Greece.

At 10 am we met Spiros and first he took us to see one end of the canal that links the eastern Mediterranean with the with the Adriatic. Use of this canal saves shipping a round trip of 131 nautical miles and is an expensive crossing for the ships that use it.

P1010684 The canal took 12 years to build and was opened in 1893. In its building, a new mountain was built along the canal’s 6,343 length and the water is 8 meters deep along the whole length. At this end there is an ingenious road bridge that drops down to allow shipping to pass over it.

Spiros said that sometimes, when it is raised again to allow traffic to flow over it, large fish are seen flapping away on the roadway. He then took us half way along the canal, so we could walk across one of the bridges. It was a great place to take photos.

Next. he took us up to a monastery (Spiros said it was for women). The drive up to the monastery of St Potapois took us way up a mountain on a very narrow road. Obviously, Spiros drives up here quite regularly as he drove very quickly. I know Elaine and Wendy closed their eyes and refused to look as we went around some of the bends in the road. The view from the top was only spoilt by the haze caused by the sand coming off the Sahara. Elaine and Wendy had to cover their legs with a long blue skirt before they could enter but Brian and I were okay showing our legs despite both wearing shorts.

The main church is built into the rock and there was a noticeable aura of peace as soon as we entered the grounds of the monastery despite the number of visitors.

Spiros then drove us back down the mountain and he showed us the spa baths before taking us into New Corinth where we had coffee at a very nice café right on the sea front. On the way back, he took us past the new motorway just below the campsite and he showed more ancient ruins right below the motorway itself.

P1010739 Spiros had to work the next day, so it was arranged that his father would take us up to the castle on the mountain opposite.

He spoke Greek and French, so it was my job to chat with him and to pass on any information he had for us. He is obviously not a lover of the Turkish nation. With great delight he told us that this is the largest castle in Europe and it has (had) three rings of fortification. It was held by the Turks, but the Greeks took the castle by siege. He drove even faster than Spiros up to the entrance and waited while we climbed up to the main entrance and then around a lot of the well, preserved area.

P1010748.JPG Although we were there to see the castle we all loved the lovely wild flowers that grow over the whole grounds. Amazingly, there was no entrance fee and the words health and safety cannot hold any place in the Greek language. Even though it was perfectly dry the slippery foot-ways all over were potentially  lethal and high up on the ramparts, there were no safety fences where large chunks of the wall were missing.

Wendy slipped at one stage and we all held our breaths. Luckily it was only her pride that was hurt. The Dad drove us fast back down the mountain and then suddenly stopped on a bend. He had spotted a wild flower he wanted and good old Brian volunteered to jump down in the ditch so he could dig up the roots of the plant.

17th-19th April 2018 Athens

We had an easy drive to Athens and got slotted in to a protected car park right by the Cruise Ship Docks in Piraeus, a suburb of Greece’s capital. We knew already knew that Maria, the owner of the park, is a goldmine of information about all things Athens. Just around the corner is the station where we would take the train for the twenty-minute journey to the centre. However, first we had to make preparations for the short journey. We have had lots of warnings, and Maria made it very clear. Organised gangs work the trains, pick-pocketing is the way they get their money. All say it is not the Greeks doing the crime. The countless immigrants get the blame. Brian and I have small bags to hang around our necks for our money and our ID and nothing is carried in our pockets.

To emphasise this, just before leaving for the station, the Belgian who was parked next to us said that he had been robbed the day before. The “bum” bag he wore in front of him around his waist was opened and stuff taken without him knowing. Luckily, he had a chain attached to his wallet because he looked down to see it hanging around his knees.

We took two days exploring Athens and really the only way I can do justice to this fabulous city is to do it with some of the pictures I took.

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us (2)Everywhere we went in Athens we saw more and more old relics

The weather was great and we all loved this thriving, bustling city. We climbed up to the Acropolis where lots of reconstruction is going on: after all, it was built in the middle of the 5th century BC. At one stage we went through a park trying to find the entrance to the Ancient Agora, the old political heart of Athens, built around 600 BC. Now we witnessed the other side of Greece. Here we saw the homeless, the dropouts and probably some of the many immigrants. It did not feel like an area of safety and I certainly didn’t take any pictures in this park.

The parliament building is guarded by evzones dressed in their kilts and their pom-pom boots. They perform their version of the “Ministry of Silly Walks” in front of a large stone bed which is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

 

We are all thoroughly enjoying Greek food and Maria (from the car park) recommended a great restaurant close to where we had parked our motor homes. The food was superb and we had a great evening.

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Here I must insert a correction from a previous blog. Whilst we were at Ancient Olympia there was a statue  of the Roman Emperor Adrian and said that he kept his head whilst everyone else were losing theirs (his was one of the few statues that had a head). In Athens we saw what must have been a later statue of the same Emperor.  He didn’t!

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Today we move towards Ancient Corinth and Athens

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2 – 13/04/2018 Kalamata

After all the excitement of the near disastrous damage caused by the road conditions here in Greece we have decided to have a break from touring. A little sojourn is called for. So, we headed back to the marina at Kalamata. Brian and Wendy are there and will be until their part arrives from England. We didn’t tell them we were on our way back. Thought it would be a nice surprise. They were up town when we arrived, and we managed to get exactly the same spot, right on the water’s edge, next to the front of their van.

When they returned through the gate, they noticed another van next to theirs, only when they got closer, did they realise it was us back. Of course, a celebration was called for. The next day, Brian and I climbed under our van and between us, made permanent the repair I had done to the brackets that hold the water tank onto the underside of our motorhome.

The weather now has turned warm. Everyday it seems to be getting hotter and hotter and we are now beginning to see the boats being worked on for when it is time to leave the marina. We watch the fishing boats go out in the morning and return later in the evening.

Capture.PNG I keep getting into trouble because I keep feeding any bread we have to the fish. It is great to see the different varieties that join the feeding frenzy as handfuls of bread are thrown into the water in front of the van. A lone Razor Fish is now a regular visitor to the food fest. Fishing is never allowed in marinas, but it is very tempting to get my fishing rods off the top of our van.

One thing that would make all sweet toothed people jealous is that, this year we have had two Easter celebrations. We are English, so we celebrated Easter at the normal time. However here in Greece Easter is celebrated one week later because the Greek Orthodox church go by the old Julian calendar unlike almost everybody else that use the Gregorian calendar. This is a very religious country and although most will not fully follow the rules for lent, most will have some things that they give up. So, whilst we were out and about this Good Friday we saw lots of “Guy Fawkes” type effigies being strung up all over town.

P1010550.JPG A young lad was up a ladder putting the finishing touches to his effort. We asked him what it is for. In perfect English he told us that in their religion the dummy signifies Judas Iscariot who was one of Jesus’s apprentices and at around 10 pm they kill him by setting him alight.

All day we have been hearing fireworks and the people ringing the church bells must have been on overtime. That Evening the four of us went off and stood in front of the rather macabre sight of six such dummies strung up awaiting their fate. Lots of people stood behind the dummies and every so often the mannequins were sprayed with a fire accelerant. Meanwhile bangers were lit and tossed into the field behind. More and more people came to watch whatever was going to happen. Around 10 pm masses of fireworks were heard in the distance. The sound got closer.

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Then around the corner came a procession led by a man carrying a cross followed by a priest and then four men, one each corner of a flower decorated bed with a picture of Jesus laying on the mattress. Following on were throngs of people all carrying lit candles whilst singing hymns.  The moment “Jesus” got level with the last dummy, it was immediately set alight followed by the other 5 Judas Iscariots.

Smoke filled the area and many of the followers stopped singing as they covered their mouths. At the same time there was a crescendo of bangs and coloured lights as many fireworks were lit to add to the spectacle. I risked being ran over by the faithful and smoke-filled lungs to get these pictures for you.

The bells of all the churches around started tolling at 8 am Easter Saturday and went on all day. We went to a supermarket and lamb couldn’t be bought for love nor money. It was all pre-ordered as this is must ingredient for any Greeks Easter Sunday meal. Whole prepared lambs were being wheeled towards the checkout ready for the Sunday spit roast. We did learn that at 10 o’clock that evening, everyone goes to church. On leaving the church people go home carrying their lit, highly decorated candles. Now Lent is over. The celebrations can carry on all night and into the next day when barbecues and loud Greek music are the order of the day.  Also, on Easter Sunday, everything is closed including the restaurants and bars. It is said that this is the one day of the year when even the ferries to the many islands do not run. At the parties, everyone goes armed with a red hard boiled egg. They tap their eggs against other eggs and the person’s egg that remains intact is deemed to be lucky throughout the next year. This is one tradition we did not join in. I feel we are so fortunate to be doing what we do that we do not need an un-cracked boiled egg to tell us how lucky we are.

We went down to a local car hire depot and hired a standard four door saloon for two days. The four of us packed our bags the next day and went off to pick up the car. We had been upgraded to a 1.4 litre, diesel BMW at no extra cost. Brian and I shared the driving and we planned to find a hotel for the night. Off we went. Driving a car on the narrow Greek roads is a totally different experience to driving our motorhomes. We first went down to the caves at Pyrgos Dirou, so Brian and Wendy could experience what we had already seen.

We then went on to Gytheio and found a great hotel right on the water front. Elaine negotiated the price for the two rooms down to an easily afforded price. That evening we had a great meal out and then found a fascinating bar full of a random selection of interesting curios including a chatty parrot in a large cage.

The next day we drove all around the Lukonikos Kolpos, the huge bay and on down to Monemvasia. This very up-market sea side resort has a very special claim to fame. Over the bridge from the modern town is Greece’s Rock of Gibraltar.

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We parked the car and followed everyone to the far end of the rock. We could see signs of fortifications way up on top. Once through the walls at the end we came into the quaintest narrow streets full of shops, bars and cafes. Way above, there was a zigzag path that would lead you up to the top of the rock.p10105361.jpg

Whilst Brian, Wendy and Elaine went off to get a coffee, I just had to see what was up there. Having climbed to behind the houses, I found the start of the zig-zag path up to the top. The pathway was shiny cobbles and very slippery so, very carefully I started the climb. The view from the top was well worth the effort to get up there and at the top there was a mixture of old ruins and recently renovated parts.

Over the castle walls I got great pictures of the small township below and then I spotted the other three far below. Back across the bridge we found a café for lunch in this now very busy holiday hot spot.

Heading back, we had great views of the snow covered, severe Tangelos mountain range. We were driving in beautiful sunshine and the warmth and up there was lots of the white stuff. We had started to climb by the time we got to Mystras and the weather was on the change. By the time we got to this fascinating town it was raining so we decided to take the mountain route back to the marina, so we could see if the route was suitable for our motorhomes. The road climbed and climbed and now we were on the narrowest zig-zagging roads imaginable. The rain turned into a storm and the thunder and lightening preceded a downpour of hailstones. Visibility was so bad I had to stop for our safety. Brian offered to take over the driving but that would have meant me getting out of the car during the “monsoon” that was taking place, so I stayed firmly in the driving seat. Torrents of water were running down the road.

When we got to the top the storm abated and all around us we could see snow on the fields around us. At some stages the road way took us through holes in the mountain rock that towered above us. On the way down, we went through long stretches where the roadway was completely covered in running water. Finally, when we got down to almost sea level we were back in the warmth and the sunshine. I think we all agreed that that particular road is not really suitable for motorhome travel.

The days passed by. We were all very relaxed. We kept trying to track the parcel for the part, so Brian and Wendy could drive their motorhome safely. Finally, after yet another search, I discovered that the parcel was in Germany!!!! Thank you, UK post office for your not so wonderful service. I finally also got a phone number for the Greek company that would eventually be delivering the parcel. I also discovered that they had an office here in Kalamata. Off we tracked. Finally, we got a promise after more phone calls that we would have the parcel at the latest by Monday.

So, between us, we decided to get another hire car. Budget / Avis did us another great deal and hired us exactly the same BMW at the super low price that we had got it for before. We packed our bags and set off down to Nafplio. We started off going over the same mountain we had crossed when I was driving during the storm. Brian drove, so of course, the sun shone, and the going was perfect. We stopped at the ancient ruins at Mystras and spent a few hours wandering around the wonders that were there. After a great, typically Greek meal, in the town, Brian drove us down to Nafplio.

I do not do recommendations but if you ever get the chance then Nafplio is a place to visit. The old town is full of narrow streets with great bars, shops and restaurants. There is a fort out in the bay and the mountains that lay behind are covered in fascinating looking fortifications.

We finally decided on which hotel we would stay at and managed to park just across the road from the entrance. It wasn’t long before we were enjoying the hospitality of a nice bar and sat people watching and enjoying the sunshine of the lovely warm day. We went off to explore the town and to see where we fancied eating that evening.

This is a very busy resort and is now very high on our best places to visit in Greece list. That evening we had a great Lamb dish in a fabulous, typically Greek restaurant. This place got the nod because the old man of the restaurant took Elaine and Wendy through to the kitchen where he proceeded to open every pot on the huge stove to show them what was cooking. Later on the same old man came over to the table to chat. When he learnt that Brian and Wendy are Australians, he went off and got his address book and asked if they knew his nephew who lives in Australia. Before going back to the hotel, we walked around the town again to take night pictures around the town.

Today, after breakfast we made our way up to the extensive castle and the views from up there were magnificent. We headed north from Nafplio and we to Ancient Mycenae to look at the ruins there before heading back to the Marina via the new Greek toll road. Great we got back a little early. The indicator stalk had been delivered here to the office just today and Brian immediately fitted it and we all got the thumbs up.

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We are on our way towards Ancient Corinth and Athens tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

A bad road surface nearly ended our trip

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24-31/03/2018 Kalamata Marina.
We left the campsite at Finikounde and if we had known what the weather was going to be for our journey northward to Kalamata was going to be like we would have stayed put where we were. It would have been safer. We wanted to move to a bigger town because we knew that there was going to be a National Celebration on Sunday so off we went. As soon as Brian started their van he knew they had a problem as the left-hand indicator started going and wouldn’t turn off. Now we needed to get to a bigger place for a different reason. We needed to get the problem fixed.

Brian took the lead I followed so I could do his indicating for him. Suddenly it started raining. Well, actually, it didn’t just start raining, torrential rain poured out of the sky accompanied by loud claps of thunder and instant bolts of lightning. There was nowhere to pull over to until the storm had finished. Brian turned left off the main road, so I followed. Now we were on a much smaller road which was totally covered in fast flowing water. Elaine used her phone to send them a message because our Sat-Nav had said we should have stayed on the wider road. All in all, it was an awful journey.
Finally, we pulled into the marina. We were given keys to the toilets and showers and were told where to plug in, so we could use the electric. There is a lovely bar here and a separate restaurant. It is a great place to stop, in amongst the boats and yachting fraternity. We went to a local bar later on, to relax after the stresses of the drive here.

One thing I haven’t talked about is the airborne sand that is being carried here on the south winds from the Sahara Desert. We have now learnt that this year it is particularly bad. Everywhere and everything is covered in a layer of sand.

P1010282 The mountain that towers over the area is almost invisible because of this dust. When the wind comes from the south and it rains then it is even worse. Brian and I had washed our vans at the last camp site and after the one journey, the vans looked uncared for. The Greek government are advising the young and the elderly to stay indoors due to the inhalation of the dust, and in the Athens area schools have been closed. We learnt on Google news that Crete is particularly badly hit and up in the mountains, the snow is turning orange. I feel particularly sorry for the detailer at the Peugeot garage we called into about the indicator problems. There were hundreds of brand new cars on the forecourt, covered in dust. What a job he will have to get all those cars looking clean again.

The 25th of March is a public holiday. This is the main reason we came to this large town. Finally aided by Russia, Britain and France, after an 8year struggle Greece was finally recognised as Independent from the Ottoman Empire and in 1832. Prince Otto of Bavaria was established as the first king of Greece. Every year the lots of the population dress in national costumes and joined by representatives of the Greek armed forces, the rescue services and even the scouting fraternity join marches all over Greece. Those dressed in medieval fighting costumes fire very loud guns to celebrate their victory. It was quite rousing to witness the appreciation the armed forces got as they marched by. Every spectator was loudly clapping all the armed services as they went through the town.
When the railway that came into the centre of Kalamata was closed due to the bankruptcy of the company that ran it in 2010 many of the old trains and carriages were left as memorials in the park. It is quite fascinating to walk up to the centre, passed the old station with the rolling stock all around. The park is a photographer’s dream.

The central street of the city is very modern and looks very affluent. The shame is that you only have to go a few streets either side to see the evidence of the perilous state of the Greek economy. Empty and abandoned wrecks of buildings can be seen in nearly every street. Old motorbikes and scooters with parts missing or torn seats are just left to rot in the street and in amongst the decent cars parked along the streets are lots that surely haven’t been driven for many years, looking at the state they are in. On the plus side, the Greek people we have had contact with have all been great and many of them speak enough English to make visiting here very easy. It is really nice when driving through villages and towns to have people smile and wave to us and we always reciprocate by waving back to them.

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In Kalamata there is the impressive cathedral and we lost count as to how many churches of every size we saw around the town. On every road, all over the country, every mile or so, we have seen these little religious boxes complete with oil lamps, religious pictures and small crucifixes. Obviously, the Greeks are very religious people; it seemed odd that the council men were out working on a Sunday emptying the communal rubbish bins.

We waited with Brian and Wendy until their part was ordered. We had been told by people from the marina that we had to drive south to go and explore the area called Outer Mani and Inner Mani and to go to the caves at Pyrgos Diros.


29/03/2018 Agios Nikoliaos
We left the Marina and drove 31 miles down to this lovely, little coastal town and parked up on the car park directly adjacent to the very picturesque harbour.

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The weather now is warm, and the sun is shining so we quickly locked up and went off to investigate what is there. We found some very inviting bars and shops, so we decided to stay the night on the car park and to move on down to the caves tomorrow. We had just moved the van away from the sea wall in case the sea got up when Dennis and Kim rolled into the car park and came and parked close to us. They had parked on the Marina for a couple of days. We told them we were stopping there for the night, so they said they would as well. The four of us went off to the nicest looking bar. Later on, they came back into our van and Dennis brought in some different bottles of Ouzo that he had bought on Kalamata. We slept well that night once the pair had gone back to their van
30/03/2018 Pyrgos Diros
We only had 36 miles to do to get down to the caves at Pyrgos Diros. So, off the four of us went. 36 miles doesn’t sound a lot but driving in Greece is completely different. Windy, narrow roads which narrowed even more every time you get to drive through a village means everywhere is a long way away. There must be money in this part of Greece. We kept passing lots of very smart houses or others that were in the process of being renovated. Also, the verges and the fields around are covered in wild flowers and lots of trees are covered in blossom. This is the best part of Greece we have seen so far. This is paradise.
We parked up in the car park for the caves and after paying our €6 euro each went down to the entrance and were led to a boat to take us the first part underground in a pretty, blue boat paddled by a Greek guide.

Once out of the boat; the rest was of the way was by foot and we followed the path marvelling at the stalagmites and stalactites. A Little more thought about introducing some coloured lights instead of the too bright white lights would have made it and even more wonderful experience.
Our stop for the night is going to be in the next bay round from the caves. We could see a few other vans, but it took 6km to get to where they are. The reviews about this bay say that it is a wonderful place to go snorkelling because of the wonderful variety of fish that can be seen. Someone even talked about swimming with a sea turtle in this very bay.

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In no time I was changed and was ready to dive to see what wonders I could find. I even took my new underwater camera, so I could share my experience with Elaine. Nothing! Not a sighting of anything! I “snorkelled” for so long, up and down the bay and ended up with the prune effect on my fingers. To make matters worse, the waves had got up and I was buffeted about as I tried to get out of the water, very conscious that I was being watched by Elaine, Dennis, Kim, and the Germans parked a little way away. I have to be honest I must have looked like a beached whale.

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I did my utmost to look like a seasoned diver and failed. Later on, Dennis and Kim, donned some gloves and big bin bags and went up and down the beach collecting all the plastic the could find.

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I just stayed in our van until I got over the fit of shivering I had after my long swim.
31/03/2018 Gytheio
Off we went to Gytheio. It meant going down to the bottom of Inner Mani and back up the other side. We were now driving up in the mountains on the narrowest roads imaginable. Hair pin bends came, one after another. For many miles we didn’t see a crash barrier to keep us from plunging over the edge of these often, broken roads. In places you would go around such a tight bend you almost meet yourself coming the other way. The roads are so steep that immediately after going around such a bend I would have to put the van into first gear just to make progress up to the next sharp bend. Our 7meter motorhome, fully laden, is just not built for these sorts of roads. Whenever we get to a village it only gets worse. The roads through the villages would be wide enough to get the horse and cart through. We went through one village where we had a kilometre to get through where it would have been impossible to pass another vehicle had it been coming the other way. On top of that, the only way to describe a Greek driver is as a lunatic with a death wish.
Half way through our 63mile journey we came across a sign pointing towards a “ancient fortified settlement”. Vatheia is just amazing virtually the whole place is deserted, and you can wander around these abandoned tower houses at will.

The doors are open and in the deserted bar there are still complete bottles of pop. In others you can see beds and even pillows, discarded when the houses were discarded. Apparently, these tower houses were occupied by very feudal Greeks. They built their houses so tall to enable them to throw stones down at their neighbours. Beware of any Greek person trying to get planning permission, near you, to build a tallish house. When we got here Dennis and Kim had already arrived.
We moved on and the “fun journey “continued. Finally, we arrived at Gytheio and looked for somewhere to stop for the night. We had a quick look around the town and moved on to a bay to a known camper stop at the bay where you can see the wreck of Demetrius.

There are conflicting reports of how this ship came to be washed up on the sands here. The best I can find is that the ship was caught smuggling cigarettes and was set alight and abandoned here by the authorities. What a great place to stop for the night. Dennis and Kim followed a us there and we spent our last evening together as we decided to stop there for a second night and they elected to move on.

After they had gone, that next day, I checked how much gas we had left. Not a lot! So, we went off to look for a garage selling auto gas. I turned at a corner and bang: we were grounded! The road at that point was so bad that the water tank had been pushed back so far that it had broken a pipe, so all our fresh water was running out and the steel straps holding the tank in place were hanging loose. Nightmare! I managed to get the van to a safe place to stop. It took me over 4 hours on a very hot day (most of the time under the van). With the limited tools I carry with me I managed to put a bung in the tank to stop it leaking. Elaine had to sacrifice the fancy bottle stop she had bought in Spain and then whittle the cork down to fit the hole to stop the water coming out of the tank. I think the only way I got the tank straps back in place was by sheer determination Finally we got the van in a fit condition to drive it safely. I didn’t have the mental energy to drive back to the wreck. We drove a few miles onward and stopped at a campsite at Gytheio Bay that had only opened for the season that day As Elaine booked us in, I filled the water tank to the brim and watched with baited breath to see if our “temporary” repair was a good one. Not a single drop came out. We could carry on with our journey! It was very nice to be parked in amongst the olive trees and a long shower there made me feel human again.