Optimistically we started driving towards Korinthos on the non toll coastal road from Athens, however the weather was terrible. Horizontal sleet and rain was hitting us and some parts of the ever so narrow coastal road with hairpin bends were flooded that deep, we were worried Adrian’s engine might flood. To add to the chaos, there were of course the Greek drivers, whom I sincerely doubt any of them legally earned a driving licence. Even in these severe weather conditions they continued to drive on the wrong side of the road coming towards us on steep hairpin bends, none of the lorries, cars, mopeds etc had their headlights on ( this in particular is a popular past time in Greece, no matter the time of day or weather conditions) and best of all, they wait to overtake you on a carefully selected sharp blind bend. So we decided enough is enough, turned around and accessed the motorway with tolls to continue our route to Korinthos. Even on this road there were treacherous parts, with salt spray machines on the go at several points.
We arrived at the campsite and were glad to have a wonderful warm shower and do some much needed washing. It dried surprisingly well outside with the cold wind, I was worried it would turn into icicles! We felt sorry for the young family parked next to us, they had 2 little kids under 3, one of whom had surprised them with severe d&v all night, not very pleasant in a small van whilst in freezing wet conditions. They were quite rightly going to try and find an apartment for a few nights to catch up with some much needed sleep and washing! On the other side of us was a lovely older British couple who we got talking to about our travels. He enthusiastically told us that they had travelled a fair bit in their lives, starting with the ‘magic bus tour’ to Kathmandu in the 70ies, now that’s some proper hippy spirit for you!
On New Year’s Eve morning it hadn’t snowed for a couple of days so we decided to make the trip to Nafplio, a usually buzzing town, to celebrate New Year’s Eve. The road was beautiful, clear blue skies and lots of snowy hilltops in the backdrop, making for a bitter cold day.
We arrived at the harbour in the afternoon, where there were lots of other vans from various nationalities already parked up. We did some last minute shopping in town and wandered around for a bit. As the cafes and restaurants didn’t look too busy yet we decided to go back to the van, have a drink there and phone the family in anticipation that the lines would probably be too busy at midnight. We went back out around 7PM and passed all the other vans again and every single one had their satellite dish up, I guess they were watching the clock on tv? We were surprised the restaurants and especially pubs were still not busy. We found a nice bar and ordered a couple of beers. As we looked around us we realised we were the only ones drinking alcohol. Everyone else was having coffee, despite this being a pub where the average age was no higher than 30! We asked the barman and he explained to us that everybody will go home to their families soon to have dinner and celebrate the new year with them. Then, at around 1 or 2AM people will come back out for drinks until the early morning.
The town looked fairly deserted but we found a nice pizza place where we had a late dinner. We asked the waiter what happens at midnight, his well thought out response was: ‘ well, the year changes.’ After having collected ourselves following our fits of laughter, we said, ‘no here’, meaning Nafplio. He still didn’t get it and thought we were talking about the restaurant, so he said ‘ well, at midnight we just turn the lights off and on a few times and then we say happy new year!’ We left the restaurant at 23.45h in the hope of finding some more excitement than a faulty light switch, and as someone had suggested earlier that day, went to to main square in town as there was a possibility of a gathering and/ or fireworks, but nobody really seemed to know. To our astonishment the entire square was empty, including all the restaurants and bars surrounding it apart from two other equally confused tourist couples, one Japanese and the other Dutch, a street dog and 2 little kids playing football. There was no clock, no music, no fireworks! We all resorted to the clock on our phones which all said different times, until from afar we heard the TV in one of the bars counting down 7,6,5… happy new year!! The Dutch couple were far more organised than us and brought a bottle of prosecco and glasses with them, which they very kindly decided to share with us. After we devoured the bottle we asked them to join us for a drink in a bar and sure enough, from around 1AM other people slowly started trickling in. We ended up having a good night out, albeit with a slightly bizarre start, however anything beats last years stomach flu version in Sicily!
The new year treated us with some sunshine, so after a long lie in and a New Years breakfast we decided to spend a few days at the beach a few kilometres down the coast. Neil enjoyed some spearfishing, but unfortunately didn’t catch any whoppers. I think it will take a while before we can become self sufficient!
We explored some more places further down the coast and pottered along a small harbour town called Vivari before spending a couple of nights in Tolo. This town looked deserted on arrival and we parked up at the end of town in the harbour carpark. At the waterside was a little stage built up, we thought probably left over from Christmas. The next morning however we were woken up by an almighty loud toot coming from one of the boats lying next to us in the harbour. Next we heard some loudspeakers being tested so I peeked out of the window to find that the stage we had parked next to was being built up and sound checked etc! More and more people started to arrive, so we quickly got dressed and went to see what all the fuss was about. It turns out that on the 6th of January, they celebrate Epiphany, an annual Christian celebration to commemorate the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan river (see: http://peloponnese.events/en/event/theofania/2017-01-06/). Here in Tolo every year they follow a great tradition and spectacle. The priest appears on stage and gives preaches a bit before blessing a cross that he then throws into the sea. A few keen teenage boys dive after the holy cross and the lucky one to find it will proudly carry it around house to house in the village. Or so the story tells us. From what we saw,most people were just interested in seeing the boys dive into the water. The cross was found after a couple of minutes and as soon as they all came back out of the water everyone dispersed and before we knew it the car park was completely empty again. I guess the traditional religious side has perhaps become less relevant these days!
Vivari and Tolo
We returned to Nafplio and caved buying an electric hook up cable for our van, something we have managed to do without for the entire year, purely using solar power and gas to supply us with heating, lighting and so on. However more cold and wet weather was predicted and our solar panel was not managing to charge up fully, which meant having to be selective on what to use the energy on; charging up machines such as iPad/ phones etc, heating/ hot water and/ or lighting.
We spent a cold night at the beach in Nafplio and after looking at the forecast it was predicted to be -6C the following night, so we decided to travel further south to seek some warmth. We drove to Kalamata, again using the motorway, as there had been a lot of snow fall throughout the Peleponesos and we didn’t fancy getting stuck on some cold mountain! It’s incredible how mountainous Greece is. There is just no easy way of getting anywhere unless you take the expensive toll roads, and even these can be pretty hilly at times!
On the road
In Kalamata we finally got to use our electric cable and test out all the features we had never used before. Ahhhh we could now have unlimited heating AND plug in machines to watch films all day! Just what we needed, as a thunderstorm hit us hard all day and night, we were finally cosy and snug with the heating pumped up to sauna temperatures, it had been a while since we had been this nice and warm!
Our view in Kalamata
When the weather turned better after a couple of days and we got Adrian, all our machines, and ourselves fully recharged we set off towards Monemvasia, a place we have been wanting to visit for some time. We stopped at Gythio for the night, about halfway.
Staying on the island at Gythio
We drove through a varied landscape inland, crossing over from one side of the the finger to the other, until we started hugging the coast again for the last part of the journey. There it was, a large rock sticking out of the turquoise sea with a beautiful backdrop of golden sun rays. Monemvasia, the Greek Gibraltar. We parked up in the harbour and as we opened the doors we nearly got blown into the sea, the carpark being a huge wind trap. So we drove along to the other side of town and parked up next to the sea wall in another little harbour where we got everything we needed, shelter from the wind, free electricity hookup and a water tap next to the van.
Monemvasia – mainland and the rock
Monemvasia – the wildlife
Although very out of season and not busy at all, we instantly fell for this charming village. The town itself where all the shops and restaurants etc are is on the mainland, which is where we stayed. Then Monemvasia old town is situated on the island, which is connected to the mainland by one small road. The island mostly consists of a large rock sticking up high, similar to Gibraltar. On the south side of the rock, the lower town is situated, in Byzantine times a buzzing place where the lower classpeople worked and lived. This tiny village had no less than 27!! churches! A small amount of houses is still inhabited today, as the place has been beautifully restored and preserved. Most places however serve as cute boutique hotels and small restaurants or souvenir shops. Then there is the upper town, where the upper class resided and the citadel was situated. The two are connected by steep tiny walkways made out of large uneven cobble stones. One must leave all vehicles including bikes and mopeds at the city wall entrance as the only way you can navigate these streets both in the upper and lower part of town is by foot, hence renovations are laborious and slow, one wheelbarrow at a time.
Exploring the rock
We have been here for about a week now, parked back in the main harbour where amazingly they also provide free electricity, and even intermittent free wifi from the surrounding cafes depending on which way the wind is blowing. We have been enjoying the superb local souvlaki, fresh bread from the numerous bakeries, and even scrumptious chocolate cakes in the shape of a mouse! We have been battling it out with the weather, with some good days and some bad having been exposed to all wheather scenarios within a week, from giant hailstones, gailforce winds, down poor of rain, crashing sea waves to beautiful and hot sunshine and pink skies. Neil has managed to catch his first (and probably his last!) 2 groupers whilst spear fishing, which went down a treat for dinner. We also enjoyed some lovely walks through Monemvasia, today nearly getting stuck on the hill as they close the upper town after 3PM in wintertime. We managed to run to the gates and caught our breath outside as the guard closed the gates behind us. The citadel at the top was a little further away from the entry than we had anticipated!
Our time in Greece is slowly coming to an end, we are booked on the ferry from Patras to Ancona on 2nd of February. We have just been planning our last week or so in Greece, so soon it will be onto pastures green and new before we say goodbye to this beautiful country that has captured our hearts.