Archives for the month of: June, 2015

Greece (like Oman) has many spellings for it’s towns and islands – Aegina or Egina and Piraeus or Pireus or Pireas, Oia or Ia and on top of that all signs in the Greek alphabet. It made it difficult when looking at the Tom Tom which didn’t recognise the spelling we used. Google translate is also good but not for English to Greek as it only translates to the Greek alphabet!

We left the Peloponnese on the 13th of June for the ferry port of Piraeus, taking the van over to the island of Aegina, one of the closest islands to Athens in the Saronic Gulf of the Mediterranean for a couple of days. The slow ferry only took an hour and ten minutes. Friends of our friend Ruth in Lubeck own a hotel close to Agia Marina and they were happy for us to leave the van there while we took the ferry back to Piraeus, bus to the airport and then flew over on Aegean airlines to Santorini for a few days. The buses and ferrys were very clean and ran very smoothly and were a pleasant surprise after hearing many stories of ferries being cancelled and long delays. We experienced none of that.

Aegina is a picturesque island with pine and olive trees and is renown for it’s pistacchio nuts. We passed many groves of the trees on our way across the island to Kavos Bay. The Kavos Bay hotel was about a 20minute walk from Agia Marina on the north east coast of the island and was on it’s own at the tip of the island. It was a very relaxing spot and the rooms and restaurant overlooked the very blue water of the Mediterranean. A rocky path took us down to the clear water for a swim although it was a bit tricky getting into the water because of all the rocks. Access to the water was much easier nearer Agia Marina.

We were very pleased that we didn’t take the van to Santorini as the traffic was bumper to bumper for most of the day with quad vehicles and hire cars driven by tourists who couldn’t drive. This coupled with local traffic, delivery vehicles and the huge coaches taking tourists from one end of the island to the other and coaches taking the thousands of tourists from the cruise ships around the island made driving a nightmare.

We were lucky that we could avoid the crowds by walking around early in the morning or later in the day (it didn’t get dark until about ten o’clock) once the cruise ships had left. One day five cruise ships and between 10-15,000 tourists were on the island, making their way around the caldera with many older people staggering up and down the steep steps. Cable cars brought most people up the mountain while a few hardier ones used the steps or rode the donkeys who were led down to the base of the cliffs every morning. At least they looked well fed when we saw their keeper take them up our street (a little way off the hectic part of town)in the morning and down again at night.

Santorini was so much busier than when I first went there about thirty years ago. There were a few shops selling carved items of olive wood or glass souvenirs but most of them sold the very boring cheap and nasty ones with Santorini written all over them. A lot of the ceramic items were no longer glazed. It was however still a magical island especially at night with a wonderful atmosphere sitting overlooking the sea, the volcano and the caldera way below at a superb restaurant with wonderful food and service or having a cocktail and watching the sunset which was not until about 8.45pm. The restaurants we chose – La Maison, Salt and Pepper and Melitini were all excellent with very varied food and no Mousaka or Pastitso to be found which was fine as most restaurants we had been to in Greece in the past three weeks offered a limited range of traditional Greek food. I had cooked most of our meals in the van with fresh produce especially the blood red delicious tomatoes. We especially enjoyed the “Fava” boiled split peas pureed and eaten with chopped onions and olives.

La Maison in Imerovigli had a delicious variety of beautifully presented foods while Salt and Pepper in Fira Stefani had very fresh fish and seafood and Melitini in Oia offered innovative Greek tapas. The cocktails at Palia Kameni and the service at all of the restaurants was exceptionally good and prices were surprisingly reasonable given their position overlooking the caldera.

The Fira (Thira)side of the island was very rugged with whitewashed appartments, hotels,bars and restaurants down towards the sea. Along some of the roads we even found some gum trees. We took the bus (a very frequent and good bus serviced the island) to Oia (Ia). The other side of the island to Thira was not so rocky and more graduated down to the sea with vineyards and various crops.

The architecture of Oia although also on a series of cliffs was somewhat different and it seemed more of an upmarket residential area amongst the restaurants,hotels and appartments. We did go to Oia to see the sunset but it was not a very special one that night. We arrived at Melitini too early (about 7pm) when it was still very humid and very hot sitting in the sun for the first hour or so.

We had decided to take the 4 1/2 hours ferry back to Piraeus the next morning and then transfer onto another ferry back to Aegina. We met two English girls Mattea and Anya on the bus down to the ferry port so they came and sat with us in our VIP section of the boat which was very pleasant and it made the journey seem very quick. It rained slightly on the way back but had cleared up by the time we arrived in Pireaus. We couldn’t change our tickets for the ferry back to Aegina for an earlier one so we bought new ones at 13euros each and left within the hour. The fast ferry only took 40minutes so when we arrived we ate dinner at Droumaki on the seafront before getting a taxi back to the Kavos Bay hotel for a couple of nights.

We walked into town from the hotel the following day, had lunch overlooking the small port of Agia Marina and relaxed for the rest of day ready for our departure at 2pm the following day back to Athens. The Tom Tom took us down impossibly narrow streets again so that I had to get out and guide Van Mauriceson away from the walls in Aegina old town before we parked. We again stopped at Droumaki and had lunch and bought some fresh fruit and vegetables before heading for the ferry where there was virtually no one else on board as it was a Saturday lunchtime.

It was an easy drive through Athens to “Camping Athens” a small but very well appointed campsite. A major highway was directly outside but that was the only downside. The receptionist was very helpful and highlighted how we were to get to the centre of Athens via a bus right opposite the campsite and then a quick metro ride to the centre of the city. We landed at Syntagma square where we saw the changing of the guard in all their regalia with pom poms on their shoes which looked very cute. We were there quite early so we went into Amalia National park adjacent to the parliament building. Amalia was the German wife of the first (German) king of Greece. She developed the park and it had a mini zoo with mountain goats, rabbits,geese,ducks and many types of birds.

By the time we made our way back with half an hour to go to watch the changing of the guard there were thousands of people already lined up in the blazing sun. To beat the crowds we left once the change had taken place and walked through Syntagma square and down to the Monastiraki and the Plaka area which was also teeming with people. We walked around for about five hours with a short lunch break and then caught the metro and bus back to the campsite.

We opted the following day for the free walking tour of Athens. It was spitting with rain for a short while before the day improved to a warm one although not very sunny. Maria had studied art history and was well informed about all aspects of Greek history, culture and economics. She was a very interested and interesting guide for the 14 of us that opted for this walk. Athens was very easy to get around on foot and there was much to see and hear about in the three hours. Many of the archaeological sights are in the central part of the city and in the Plaka (the hotel and restaurant area) and in the Monastiraki which is full of gold and souvenir shops. There are many parks and the feeling was one a very leafy green centre. Athens viewed from the water is a sea of white buildings spreading up the many hills around the city. It was only supposed to be a temporary capital and therefore was planned for between 40 and 60,000 people and then the capital was going to be moved to Istanbul. This never happened and what Athens has today is a burgeoning sprawling city of about over 600,000 people and greater Athens wirh over 4 million inhabitants not taking into account maybe another million illegal immigrants.

Many of the shop owners in the Monastiraki spoke an Ozzie English as they had lived for some or many years in Australia or had relations there. Melbourne has the largest Greek community outside of Greece so that wasn’t a surprise.
Part of the tour was walking through the Syntagma metro station. There was a lot of controversy about the construction of the metro given there were many archeological ruins and remains (parts had been cemeteries) so when they built it they retained or recontructed the layers of what was there including an open stone coffin with a skeleton. There were also artifacts in glass cabinets in some of the stations as well as modern sculptures which made them an interesting part of the city.
We had a vegetarian pitta in one of the more modern establishments and after buying a kilo of cherries for 1.69euros and a nice gold ring for me and a leather wallet for Maurice made our way back with sore feet to the campsite.

There were a few newly arrived camping cars – one with a friendly dog and one with a friendly cat Junior pronounced (shunior) He was French. Again the animals were well behaved and not a sound from them until they went on their walks out of the campsite. I attempted to replicate the “Fava” (yellow split peas, boiled, pureed and eaten with chopped onions, capers and olives) that we had eaten on Aegina after getting the recipe from the waiter but it didn’t quite taste the same. I since found another recipe online that I will try. The large Aegina tomatoes and yellow capsicum stuffed with a rice mixture we enjoyed on a number of occassions. We bought many peaches and nectarines which were extremely tasty.

The Acropolis and archaeological museum were left for our last day in Athens as well as the old cemetery area of Keramicos at the confines of the old city. It was about a twenty minute hike up to the Acropolis which was covered in scaffolding with a massive reconstruction underway. In order to differentiate the original from the new, they are now using a lighter coloured material in the columns and building structures. We walked from the top of the Acropolis down through the ancient Roman Agora or market to see the Stoa of Attalos an enormous two storey structure which has been totally reconstructed. Behind that is the Monastiraki area and beyond that the Keramikos ancient cemetery. Our feet had had enough for a while so we stopped at a nice little cafe where we must have looked hot as the owner came rushing over with complimentary water for us. There are many very upmarket cafes and patisseries also in the suburbs which we discovered on our way out of town.
The Thesseion metro station was nearby so we caught it and left it at Omonia square where we walked another twenty minutes up to the National Archaeological museum which was interesting with many artifacts, statues and marble steles in various states ranging from parts of a leg to some complete and beautiful statues from the period 100 to 500BC. We saw a gathering for a demonstration against the proposals put forward by the government. I’m sure there will be many more.

Our legs and feet had really had it by then so we caught the metro and bus back to the campsite which only took half an hour.
We thoroughly enjoyed our four nights in Athens and the friendly, welcoming and helpful nature of it’s inhabitants. We found the city, trains and buses to be very clean and tidy although there was much graffiti everywhere like in other major cities.

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It turned out to be a wonderfully calm crossing from Bari to Igoumenitsu on the north west coast of Greece on the 1st June.

It was our first “camping on board” experience. Choc a block with every kind of vehicle,truck, campervan, caravans and even a boat. Part of the sides of the ferry on the car deck were open and we could go up to the lounges, restaurants etc but we had a picnic in the camper instead before sleeping in our bed in the camper. We had electrical connections for the airconditioning and lighting but there was no cooking allowed via gas or electricity. The view of the Anek’s sister ship should tell you why! The Costa Delizioso, a sister to the Costa Concordia was also next to us.
The ship had cages and a peeing area (for the pets) – all very civilised.
It was beautiful up on deck – nice and warm and a there was a beautiful sunset in Italy followed by an amazing sunrise in Greece. It was rather cool when we arrived (it was 0530) and we drove through a lot of fog in the mountains towards Meteora which took us about three hours after a stop for breakfast and a Greek coffee – no cappuccino but a strong espresso in a very small, local village where the conversation stopped for a minute as we arrived.
Yellow fragrant bushes along the mountain roads as well as the new green foliage and colourful pink thistle like flowers were in abundance.

We drove at a leisurely pace along the excellent highway and then secondary road to Meteora. There were a couple of toll roads and the first pay station decided to charge us six euros and the second 2.40euros instead of six. In Greece they take the height of the vehicle as opposed to the length (taken in every other country we have visited). The first girl decided to add on the height of the airconditioner – All Greek to me.

Meteora is known for it’s enormous rock formations, many with monasteries perched on top. A truly magical sight. The weather was perfect and we managed to avoid a lot of the bus loads of tourists who were arriving as we were leaving to find our “Camping Kastraki” campsite which was below some of the spectacular formations.

We visited a couple of the monasteries the following day climbing the steep steps without too many people again and then driving further up into the mountains where the air was very fresh and the views spectacular. The rock formations are restricted to a small area compared with the expanse of mountain ranges around them. We stopped at a cafe at the top and had a drink before we headed back down the slopes, stopping to avoid a couple of tortoises, one of which we nearly ran over. I got out of the van and urged him back onto the grass and we then saw his partner across the road and another one further down trying to cross the road. When he saw us coming he retreated pretty quickly.
There were a number of stray dogs wandering on their own along the road and a few cats waiting for some titbits near the entrance to the monasteries.

A leaking gas connection sent us to the camping personnel who referred us to a shop in town to be told they could do nothing but they then referred us to another shop. This went on for six shops until we finally found Mr Fallas (unfortunate name) just out of town who was more than helpful and fixed the problem. He showed us pictures of his seven male cousins in Sydney and also his motorbike that he was restoring in his shop. It took about an hour to solve the problem (which he hesitantly said was Maurice who had tightened the fitting too much). He said to Maurice that he spoke nice English but he couldn’t understand him. The conversation was lively without much comprehension on either side. He refused any payment so we went back the following morning with a couple of bottles of wine for him. Such a lovely man.

That evening we went for a drink to a new restaurant “Panorama” aptly named for it’s view of the town and some of the rock formations near the campsite. Maurice happened to look up and see a trail of goats making their way along the very precarious edges of the rockface and into it’s crevices. No wonder they are called mountain goats. They obviously stayed in one of the crevices for the night as they were still there sunning themselves when we left in the morning..

We found in the couple of days that we had been in Greece that English comprehension is very limited to language involved with selling souvenirs. The camping ground staff speak enough of about four languages to say what they need to but anything beyond that is pretty restricted.
Having said that, every one we have dealt with has been more than helpful (with sign language) and very friendly. I suppose
they really need to be to encourage as much tourism as possible given their current economic state.

The highways, roads and tunnels many of which appear brand new were probably built with EU money and made for very easy driving. Many of the cars were very old utes (30-40years old) and not in very good condition. There were however many new and large two storey houses dotted around the countryside and not many vacant shops in the villages and towns so things didn’t appear desperate. The coffee shops around the towns were also bursting with locals and many of the shops only took cash.

We left Meteora and took all day to drive up and down the very winding beautiful mountain roads with very little traffic to Arta. It reached 31degrees high up in the mountains and we stopped and had lunch in the van overlooking a wide valley. Vast forested areas covered most of the mountains and the wafting scent of the pines was all around us.
There were only a few little villages with scattered houses (not like the tightly packed hilltop villages in Italy).There were many scattered rocks on the road and a couple of minor landslides to avoid.
we saw another tortoise by the side of the road as well as a couple of dead badger like animals and a dead snake. It was more wildlife than we had seen in the entire last year of travel in the van.

Nearer to the coast the hills were a lot drier and covered with olive trees. We turned off and followed the road with it’s banks of oleander bushes to ” Enjoy Lichnos” campsite near Parga where we decided to have a couple of days by the beach. The campsite was right on the beach in a lovely bay and was touted as the most beautiful beach on the Ionian coast. It was indeed lovely and after an hour’s steep walk up and over the hill into Parga town we took the boat back to the campsite and had a swim. The weather was very changeable with sunshine, clouds and a bit of rain and sunshine again but it was nice and warm. The water was beautifully clear but getting in was a bit bracing!

More rain was expected the following day so we headed for Patras stopping along the way to have some lunch and to buy more fruit and honey from a roadside stall. The owner was very generous and gave us extra bananas and oranges even though the price was very reasonable. We passed through a lot of agricultural land with wheat and corn crops and thousands of kiwi fruit

We drove over the very impressive Rio-Antarrio bridge with a 13.20euro toll and to the large city of Patras for a look around and a coffee. Most of the bars and restaurants were well patronised, mainly with Greeks. We got our heart rates up for the day by climbing the 200 odd stairs to get a good view of the city and down to the sea.

Aginara Beach was our stop for the next couple of days and it was a beautiful spot on the coast overlooking the island of Zakynthos. It had a lovely bar overlooking the sea where we met up with two lovely couples Australians Bruce and Mary Rose from Mackay and Norma and Reece from South Africa. The Juventus/Barcelona match was showing but we all sat and chatted which made for a very pleasant evening. It was a lovely quiet camping place with a mixture of Dutch, German, Austrian and British campervans and caravans.
Our umbrella went up for the first time and our new table and chairs and so we had breakfast outside. The rest of Sunday was spent doing the washing, cooking and doing general household things. It was rather overcast for some of the day and we even had some spots of rain about 8pm. It didn’t get dark until about 9.30pm.

There was more rain forecast so we headed to Olympia to see the home of the Olympic games, the archeological ruins and museum. Many kilometres before and after Olympia there was an enormous amount of garbage at intervals along both sides of the road. We both said we wouldn’t want to be there in the height of Summer if it still hadn’t been collected.

We were again lucky with few tourists wandering around in the 31 degrees at the site. The ruins and museum took us about two hours. We noticed one sign which said that there was an interesting mosaic on the floor of one of the buildings. We however couldn’t enter the building so I asked one of the staff who was sitting on a rock why this was.
He said that some tourists had taken some pieces of the mosaic as souvenirs so the Greeks just covered it with sand and closed it off! We stopped by an orange orchard to have lunch and after fueling up (diesel is 30euro cents cheaper here than Italy) headed further south to Camping Kalogria after stopping at the lovely town of Kardamyli for a “cappuccino freddo” for me. We were astounded to see that there were at least twelve bars around the main centre of town. We stopped at Kalamata and bought some olives.
The temperature dropped to a cooler 24degrees as we drove over the mountains and there was much cloud and a bit of rain around.

Rain wasn’t on our menu for Greece and the locals said it was very unseasonal so we looked at the weather forecast and decided to press on to the east coast near Corinth to get some welcome sunshine for a few days. At least it wasn’t cold.
We didn’t pass any large shopping centres like the ones found in Italy and other European places only some small super markets and fresh fruit stalls where we bought delicious apricots and cherries for 2.50euros a kilo. There seemed to be more German spoken here than English which we found a bit surprising. Even some of the shop signs were in Greek and German.

South of Kalamata were many beautiful stone houses, old and new and these continued for much of the coast down past Aeropoli where we bought some good bread and had a break. The Greeks seem to be fond of sesame seeds which we found on most bread products.
We circled the middle southern finger of the Peloponnese which was spectacularly scenic from the very high mountain roads down to the sea.

There were also some abandoned and derelict stone houses in the small villages in that area and much of the terraced stone walled plots had long been left without any further cultivation. We left Areopoli and took the road through the mountains and valleys and across to the west coast town of Palaia Epidavros. We landed a prime site at “Bekas camping” about 4metres from the sea with lovely views to various islands. We settled in for a few days and walked in the morning along the beach to find a gaggle of geese enjoying the water and looking for cockles buried in the sand. Scores of orange and lemon orchards and some beautiful bouganvillea lined the streets into the town with it’s picturesque harbour and good coffee! A fish shop lured us in to buy a very fresh fish which we grilled for dinner that night.

This was the best camping spot we have found so far so decided to stay for four nights. The next day we walked to the ancient small theatre of Epidaurus and then over the hill to the town where we sat and enjoyed
the scenery over a coffee and then walked back along the foreshore to have a swim. The water was not as cold as on the west coast but not exactly warm. We saw the geese wandering around again as though they owned the place.

We had been recommended to eat fresh fish at Muria restaurant on the water’s edge not far from the campsite and were not disappointed. The meal of homemade dolmades, tomato, onion and caper salad and baked fetta with tomatoes followed by two kinds of grilled fresh fish was delicious washed down with some decent Rose.
Eleven kilometres outside the town was a much larger Amphitheatre at set amongst the pine covered hills. It was an amazing structure and so well preserved. Maurice stood in the centre and his voice carried right to the top of the theatre.
Someone explained that there were three acoustic zones and that from each of those zones the dialogue could be heard perfectly around the whole amphitheatre. That was another good climb to the top.

Another relaxing day followed with an hour’s walk into town with the scent of olive and fig trees and jasmine hedges then back for a swim in the crystal clear water.
Eating outside was a pleasure with no flies or mosquitoes.

On the 13th June we left the idyllic town and campsite of Palaia Epidavros and visited the ancient ruins of Corinth, an hour away before leaving the Peloponnese and driving on to the port of Piraeus to take the camper on the ferry (70euros) to the island of Aegina which is the closest inhabited island to Athens off the west coast.

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We flew back to Rome at the awful hour of 7am from Dublin and to a lovely 26degrees where we were met at the airport by city taxis and taken to our B and B to collect our heavier luggage and were then dropped at the main train station for our journedy of 2 1/2hours to Boiano. Our friend Liberato picked us up and we went directly to Roccamandolfi where we had dinner with him, his wife Giulia and their little girl of eighteen months Caterina who we have seen every six months from when she was 3months old. It was interesting to see her development from small baby to a happy, smiling toddler.

We went and uncovered the van in it’s nice dry garage on the 13th May ready for our Summer tour to Greece, Turkey and across Italy, France, Spain and to Morocco. It took us a week to organise our things and then have everything taken up to the van again and have it serviced in Campobasso and buy a few more useful things for the van.

We didn’t realise that onthe 16th May the “Giro D’Italia” cycle race was taking place on the neighbouring mountain “Campitello Matese” so we went into Boiano, half and hour away to see the parade of all the support and promotional vehicles.
We took our friends out to lunch to “La Locanda” in a small neighbouring village and had the usual four courses of a lunch.
Needless to say no further food was required for the rest of the day.

We really appreciate our base in Roccamandolfi where the mountains are beautiful,the air is fresh, there are no other tourists but the town is well supplied with five bars, a couple of pizzerias, a nice restaurant, a few general shops where you can actually smell the nectarines and tomatoes when you enter the doorway. There are many birds singing in the morning and in the afternoon you can hear the cuckoos across the valley. Ocassionally the wolves howl from across the mountains and we saw a fox crossing the road as well as the shepherd with his flock of sheep.

One afternoon we went up the mountain to an open field where they celebrate Ferr’Agosto (the biggest holiday in Italy)on the 15th August. We were lucky enough to be there on a couple of occasions where people camp out and BBQ and generally enjoy themselves.
We are sorry to be leaving our lovely friends and Maurice’s favourite little girl here Roccamandolfi. A great place for a relaxing holiday with lovelyl mountain walks.

We made our way leisurely to my relatives in Sezze on the 21st May stopping to buy some delicious fruit and fresh buffalo mozzarellas on the way. We spent a nice ten days with my relatives mainly eating and making merry with one trip to the coast visiting Nettuno/Anzio which I had heard a lot about because from the landings during the war in 1944.
We also attended a small cousin’s end of year production which was nice to see. She was an enthusiastic butterfly and another cousin was the group’s teacher for the last year and who organised the whole thing.

We made our way to the ferry in Bari on the 1st June for the ten hour trip to Igoumenitsa on the Greek coast to start our month long exploration of the mainland and a couple of the islands.

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