Casciano di Murlo (Tuscany), Italy – Feb 2018

My original plan, after leaving Rome, was to head for Grosseto (117 miles to the north) and then Siena (a further 48 miles, north north east) and to stay over in both places. I no longer have the time for that (I have to get back to the UK within the next 2 weeks) and since I couldn’t choose between the two towns, I elected to stop somewhere between them and explore a few of the local villages instead. This would mean one stop instead of two and it would be in keeping with my expressed wish to go somewhere quieter after Rome.

So, I drove about 130 miles north to the quiet and fairly remote village of Casciano di Murlo in Tuscany. Nestled amongst densely wooded and hilly terrain it is very quiet but also very well placed for me to visit a couple of interesting Tuscan villages tomorrow – Montalcino and Montepulciano (more about them in the morning). To give you an idea as to how quiet and remote this place is:-

I set off from Rome late in the day and didn’t arrive in Casciano di Murlo until well after dark. I parked up just outside the village and walked a kilometre or so back to a local store to buy bread and milk. I stopped also to check out the local tavern but, just one glass of the local red wine and a slice of pizza (such that I didn’t have to cook). Returning to the Van with a small torch in hand I received the shock of my life. A “sounder” of wild boar (I had to look “sounder” up on the internet – it is the collective noun for a dozen or more boar) charged out of the woods and across the road directly in front of me. I really thought they were heading for me and to say they made me jump is an understatement. They frightened the bloody life out of me!

… dense woodland one side of the Van and…

… terraces of olive trees on the other side (both photos taken the next day)

It didn’t altogether end there. I awoke the next morning to noise outside the Van. I thought it might be the boar again but no, this time it was a small herd of deer. They disappeared as I exited the Van.

The weather was cold but dry (4 degrees and windchill compared to the 22 degrees and sun I enjoyed down at Gallipoli) and the weather forecast was for rain later in the day but there was time enough to take a quick walk around Casciano before setting off for Montalcino and Montepulciano:-

   

    

A very quiet village. Time enough to plot the day’s itinerary. I think 4 more villages in total unless the rain proves too heavy – Montalcino, San Quirico d’Orcia, Pienza and Montepulciano

 

 

Rome (Lazio), Italy – Feb 2018

By early afternoon I had left Pompeii and was en route to the Hotel Bell’ambriana in Rome, arriving just at the end of a thunder storm. I met Steve there and we stayed three days, with the Van parked up in the hotel car park. Oh, and the weather wasn’t at all bad except for that moment when I arrived.

This was my fourth or fifth time in the Eternal City but it didn’t stop us doing the usual sites that one associates with a rugby or football weekend in Rome – the Fiddler’s Elbow, Finnegans’s Bar, the Druid’s Den (except the Den has closed down) and a couple of Italian bars too – Sorry, I should have said – the Colloseum, St Peter’s Square, the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, etc:-

The usual tourist photos; all so well known, I suspect, as not to require any introduction or description:-

    

… and then, best of all (given the 46 – 15 scoreline and the way Anthony Watson and Sam Simmonds sparkled against Italy), the Olympic Stadium…

Of course, the majority of the long weekend was given over to eating and drinking and, without any doubt, it was a fruity full bodied red Solento Negroamaro which proved a clear winner so far as the wine was concerned (which goes to show I made excellent use of my time in Puglia). The food? Rome has the best pizzas in the world but my favourite meal was a simple Lasagne which I ate, sitting in the sunshine outside on the day of the match in a restaurant I cannot even remember the name of, let alone where it is.

… I don’t remember the name of the restaurant or even the square it was located in but I do recall the wine we drank was a Puglian Primitivo

Thanks again, Rome. Thanks again England Rugby. Somewhere quieter next, I think.

Pompeii (Campania), Italy – Feb 2018

Personal issues require that I return to the UK and yesterday morning I decided that the planned tour of Calabria and Sicily must wait for another day (the summer?). I turned the Van northwards and made for Pompeii. Then it is to Rome for the Italy v England 6 Nations Rugby match on 4 February and thereafter I will plan my route / itinerary back to the UK. Having said that there’s a few more blogs to be posted before this particular tour is concluded.

The 400 km drive to Pompeii was easy, mostly motorway, and my only grumble was with the weather. I was leaving 25 degrees of warm sunny weather and heading towards the currently cold and wet west coast. Here’s hoping it improves, especially for the rugby match.

… nice hills on the way over to the Campania Region. They too will warrant a return visit

Upon arrival in Pompeii, I parked up in the Fortune Village Campsite directly opposite one of the main entrances to the archaeological site. I had the campsite to myself but the archaeological site, large as it is (170 acres have been unearthed to date), was packed with tourists and I elected to leave my visit until the next morning before the hordes arrive.

To set the scene ancient Pompeii was a Roman port with some 10,000+ residents when following the sudden and violent eruption of Mount Vesuvius on 24 August, 79 AD, it was buried under 7 metres of pumice and ash. The only good news from a historical perspective was that the city’s sudden burial served to protect it for more than 17 centuries from vandalism, looting and the destructive effects of climate and weather. Unfortunately, some of those who began the archaeological “dig” after Pompeii was rediscovered in 1748 were not sufficiently skilled in excavation techniques and caused not inconsiderable damage to what was left of the city (and there was a great deal of looting too) and then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, during the summer of 1943 the US Twelfth Air Force Bomber Command dropped no fewer than 150 bombs on the place.

The next morning, I was amongst the first to visit the site and I made straight for the Forum (which is fairly central to the site and it is around which most of the city’s focus would have been) with a view to seeing the site from the inside out. I allowed myself 3 hours to explore Pompeii and I should have allowed 5 to do the place justice. It is a fascinating place notwithstanding that most of the remaining treasures and frescoes have been removed to various museums, particularly the Archaeological Museum of Naples.

… in the south west corner of the Forum is the Basilica of Pompeii where business and legal matters were debated and where lawyers without clients, teachers without pupils and artists without commissions, etc would tout for business. This particular example was built between 130 and 120 BC

… the northern end of the forum contains what remains of the Temple of Jupiter and 3 of 4 honorific arches. Initially, the buildings were constructed of dark volcanic stone but in the 1st Century AD white limestone was introduced (see columns on extreme right) 

… Statue of a Centaur on the south side of the Forum. More limestone columns to the right of this photo.

     

… Pompeii streets. Not a tourist in sight. I timed it perfectly!!

It was not so much the civic buildings, but the private residences, bars, shops and bath houses that I found most interesting. Walking around Pompeii is so much more than a history lesson. This was a real tragedy with an estimated 2,000 people losing their lives as a result of the eruption and seeing the homes, pubs, shops  and personal effects of those that lived in Pompeii and died such a violent death there makes the visit so very more poignant. And if that is not enough seeing the plaster casts (in places like the Granary, Stabian Baths and Garden of the Fugitives) of victims caught at the precise moment of their death makes the whole Pompeii experience so more “proximate”.

… some details from Casa del Fauno. The House of the Faun (named after the bronze faun statue standing in the impluvium which was designed to catch rain water) is one of the largest and more impressive private dwellings and it is thought to have been owned by a Cassius Satria. The mosaic inside the House depicts Alexander the Great’s victory over Darius III of Persia at Issuss in 333 BC

… part of the garden of the house of Marcus Lucretius Fronto, said to be a cultured man with a great political career. This is one of the most richly appointed properties to have been unearthed with, tragically, the crushed skeletons of a group of 5 adults and 3 children inside. It is believed the roof collapsed during or after the initial eruption.

    

… Casa di Fontana Piccola – the House of the Little Fountain (House Number 18 on the Via di Mercurio). No one knows who lived in this property. 

… mural (from the House of the Vetti?)- 2 brothers, Aulus Vettius Conviva and Aulus Vettius Restitutus, believed to be wine merchants lived in the house of Vetti

     

… the granary with innumerable amphorae (storage jars). The second photo includes a cast of a dog frozen at the moment of it’s death

… the oven from one of 34 bakeries unearthed in Pompeii

… the Sun and the Fortunata Public Houses. I am told there were many more taverns than bakeries in Pompeii. Some things never change.

… the Stabian baths and the cast of yet another casualty found in the grounds of the baths.

I wasn’t too sure about going to Pompeii but it proved an unusual and moving day and I would certainly revisit the place (allowing 5 hours next time). Moreover, I’d combine the trip with a visit to the Archaeological Museum of Naples. Highly recommended (if you can beat the crowds).

Gallipoli (Puglia), Italy – Jan 2018

This Gallipoli is nothing to do with the site of the First World War battle (which was in Turkey). This one is a fishing port and beach destination on the west coast of the Salentine Peninsula in the heel of Italy and it’s name is derived from the Greek Kallipoli, meaning “Beautiful City”. It is known by some as the “Pearl of the Ionian Coast”.

The town is divided into two parts; the new town on the mainland and the old town on a limestone island now linked to the mainland by a 16th/17th/18th century bridge (no one can give me a definitive date). It is the old town that is of most interest and it was to the old town that I headed yesterday morning. It is so worth a visit.

Gallipoli Old Town (not my photo). The large building alongside the bridge is the island fortress of Castle Angioino. The old fishing port is to the immediate left of the castle as you look at the photo. The much larger commercial port is to the right.

The first thing you encounter as you cross the bridge into the old town is the 13th century fortress, Castello Angioino Gallipoli (largely rebuilt in the 15th century). Off season it costs 5 euros to view the castle and you are allowed on the ramparts – hurrah!! It’s not a bad little castle and it was made all the more interesting because a local authority had organised an exhibition of some of Jacob Philipp Hackert’s works. I learned that he was a German Neoclassical landscape artist who became court painter to Ferdinand IV of Naples but I can’t say I like his work. It’s all a bit cold. No matter, it made for a pleasant change and we are long overdue some culture in this blog.

… There’s a couple of pictures (mine, not Hackerts) from the castle ramparts towards the mainland. The church is the Santuario di Santa Maria del Canneto  

The receptionist in the castle was a charming chap who went out of his way to advise me as to what to see on the island and how best to navigate the narrow tortuous streets. He recommended that I venture first into the lanes to visit the cathedral of Saint Agata and then walk the perimeter of the island, perhaps stopping off for lunch at one of the many fish restaurants and finishing off at the fishing port and beach. Who was I to argue?

The first thing you notice as you enter the lanes is that the old town is lived in. It is mostly residential with just a few offices and shops although, I was told that an increasing number of cafes and restaurants are opening as the town responds to a burgeoning tourist trade. The second thing you notice is that it is almost like stepping back in time to the 1960’s. The place is full of Vespa and Lambretta motor scooters and many of the limited number of cars on the streets are original Fiat 500’s.

The best find in the lanes, however, was a general store which reminded me in some respects of the tv sitcom “Open All Hours”.  Every nook and cranny of the shop was crammed with such a variety of merchandise and the proprietor was an Italian “Arkwright” who followed me round the store, picking up and showing me various produce and talking non stop in sing song Italian about God only knows what. He didn’t seem to notice that I couldn’t understand a word and when I started smiling and then giggling at his antics (you know how it gets to you when you want to laugh but must not?) he just joined in. The pair of us were giggling and laughing like schoolkids for a fair while. Thankfully, no one else was in the shop and in the end I bought some bread and fruit just to get out of the place.

    

…One of the principal lanes on the island (which led to the cathedral) and “Arkwright’s Store”. Just looking at that photo makes me smile.

… The Basilica di Sant’ Agata. I was hemmed in by the lanes and couldn’t get more into the picture

The walk around the perimeter of the island would probably take only 30 to 40 minutes but it took me almost 3 hours. I kept stopping to take in the sites (and read restaurant menus). There were two particularly long stops. The first was to enjoy a couple of glasses of a dry white Salento wine and a small plate of Gambieri Crudi (raw prawns served whole after being doused in lime juice and covered in various herbs) and the second was to watch and listen to (although I couldn’t understand a word they said) a small group of men sitting in the old fishing port in the sunshine mending their nets and talking.  A couple of them were selling sea urchins to passers by from a temporary stand. It seems sea urchins are a speciality of the town.

    

… A few of the smaller churches or chapels on the island. I know the first one is the church and former convent of St Francis of Assis but I don’t know the names of the others.

The final act of the day was to head down from the town to the old fishing port and it’s mole (remember the Trieste blog – that was a mole) and then round to the long golden beach of Spiagga della Purita (Beach of Purity).

… a photo from the mole of the fishing port and castle. The Beach of Purity was empty except for a great deal of litter (which one hopes will be cleaned up before summer)

Well, not a bad day. The receptionist at the castle did me proud with his suggestions.

Lecce (Puglia), Italy – Jan 2018

Leaving Bari late in the day and determined to overnight in Gallipoli (some 40 km beyond Lecce on the coast), I didn’t allow myself anywhere near enough time to properly explore Lecce and the surrounding area. I overlooked some of the eastern side of the city and, more particularly, I failed to visit both the Cesine Nature Reserve (some 20 minutes drive to the east) and the seaside town of Otranto (further to the south). I’ll be back.

Commonly referred to as the Florence of the south, Lecce is a small city on the Salentine Peninsula (a sub-peninsula on the heel of Italy). The majority of the buildings in the city are made of the creamy white limestone that I mentioned in the Bari blog (and which I have since learned is known as Lecce Stone) and the place is quite beautiful. I imagine it looks stunning when lit up at night.

Parked up in the municipal car park close to Porta Napoli, I was soon on my way towards the Piazza del Duomo (the cathedral square) in the heart of the old city.

  

The first photo is of Porto Napoli, one of three remaining 16th century gates made in Lecce stone that lead into the old city. The second photo is of Via Palmieri, a principal route within the old city which leads from Porto Napoli to Piazza del Duomo. 

It was early afternoon and, while I hadn’t seen that many people during my walk along the Via Palmieri, there was absolutely nobody about as I entered Piazza del Duomo. This is not unusual and it can be explained in part by the fact that the square only has one entrance (which made the area easier to fortify in the event the city was attacked) and consequently there is no through traffic, motorised or pedestrian. Hey, no complaints on my part.

Above, the building on your left as you enter the square is the cathedral, the Cattedrale dell Assunzione della Virgine, and the one on the right (set further back) is the Archbishop’s Seminary Palace.  

   

…The entrance to the cathedral and the five story bell tower to it’s left are wonderfully ornate 

Unfortunately, the cathedral was closed. I therefore set off down increasingly narrower lanes towards another apparently more popular square (it has a McDonalds), the Piazza Sant’ Oronzo.

The centrepiece of the Piazza Sant’ Oronzo is his column but the square is great for people watching and surrounded by various interesting features (and I’m not talking about the McDonalds although I did sit and eat a Big Mac outside on the square):

… the 30 metre column on which stands a statue of Lecce’s patron saint

… in the foreground is the left half of a 2nd century Roman Arena (the other half is yet to be unearthed) and behind it the cuboid 16th century Palazzo del Sedile 

Then it all started to go awry, probably because I was in too much of a rush. I headed east towards the castle but, shades of Bari, visitors are not allowed up on the battlements. Somewhat disappointed I decided to give the castle a miss and, as in Bari, turned once again to the church.

This is when things started to go awry and confusion set in. The plan was to visit an exceptionally decorative church I had read about called the Chiesa di San Matteo. Unfortunately, the Chiesa di San Matteo I had read about is in the town of Otranto, 27 miles south east of Lecce. The exceptionally decorative church in Lecce that I had read about and wanted to visit is the Basilica di Santa Croce.

The upshot of this is that instead of heading north from the castle towards the Basilica di Santa Croce, I headed south towards the Porta San Biagio and then spent a good half hour trawling increasingly narrow lanes in search of the wrong Chiesa di San Matteo. The Chiesa di San Matteo that I eventually found was somewhat disappointing (decorative as it was, it wasn’t that great) and too far from the Basilica di Santa Croce for me to turn around. Oh well.

     

… Porto San Biagio and some increasingly narrower lanes…

  

… and even more narrow lanes and… a Roman amphitheatre (which doesn’t show on my map) and… what on earth is the cathedral steeple doing there? It should be to the other side of me.

… and there it is, the wrong Chiesa di San Matteo. Whoops, I should have been looking for the Basilica di Santa Croce

Above, someone else’s photo of the Basilica di Santa Croce in Lecce. Next time!

Still, it wasn’t a bad day. I made it to Gallipoli in good time and am now sitting drinking a reasonably well priced local wine with Prosciutto Crudo and Scamorza Cheese. Could be worse.

Villa Carrisi, Salice Salentino. Smooth and semi-dry. As Shakespeare said… “All’s well that ends well”.

 

 

 

 

Bari (Puglia), Italy – Jan 2018

Sorry. I’ve not posted for a while. Some personal matters forced me to park the Van up in Bari and fly back to the UK. Thanks to the Hobby Park Car Wash (and in particular Cosimo) for letting me leave the Van with them for the last 10 days.

I’m back in Italy now and heading towards Lecce but I did manage to see a little of Bari. With a population of more than 300,000, Bari is the capital of the Puglia or Apulia Region (in the south east of Italy) and has been a major port on the Adriatic since Roman times. Before today, anything else I might have said about Bari would have been derogatory (large industrial sea port with a reputation for being decidedly unsafe for tourists even during daylight hours – that’s what I was told) but, while it is not a place where I would want to stay (and, yes, as in any large city with crowds you should guard against pickpockets) the old town, Vecchia Bari, is well worth a few hours of anyone’s time.

I walked the 2-3 km from where the Van was parked to the first of the three major tourist attractions that are to be found in the Vecchia Bari – Castle Svevo. The other two on my list of places to visit were the Cattedrale di San Sabino and the Basilica di San Nicola.

The route took me down Via Sparano with all it’s designer shops (Michael Kors, Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Sephora, Pandora, etc – you can tell I’ve been shopping with my daughter before, can’t you?) and then into a cluster of narrow lanes towards the harbour that form the Vecchia Bari.

  

… the mostly empty lanes are fascinating and, without the summer crowds, of no use to pickpockets 

Standing to one side of the lanes, Castle Svevo serves as the headquarters of Puglia’s Cultural & Landscape Heritage and is described as an “imposing gateway to the old city”.

Yes, the castle has a grand exterior with it’s thick sturdy walls and lofty Norman towers but that is about it. I paid the 8 euros entrance fee but was back outside within 30 minutes. It is for the most part an empty hollow shell with visitors denied access to any of the castle’s more interesting parts (such as the battlements which, surely, will have provided terrific photo opportunities both across the city and out to sea). Even the castle windows are all blocked off to visitors – no window photos!!

It’s sad. The castle appears in very good condition and so much could be done to make it a more interesting and attractive place to visit; not least because of it’s fascinating and chequered history. Castle Svevo is not just another fortress shared over a period of time by various warring factions. It is said that St Francis stayed in the castle on his return from Palestine in 1220 and there are some enthralling legends concerning his stay (one about a comely maiden who was sent to his bed chamber to test him).  Add to this that in the 16th century Isabella of Aragon and her daughter, Bona Sforza, transformed the castle into a private residence and playground for musicians, artists and scholars and that in the 19th century part of the castle was turned into a prison and you have sex, drugs and rock & roll (and more besides) all in the same castle. Okay, that last bit is me putting my own interpretation on historical events but it would still make for a pretty good castle- museum. For it to be given over as offices to the equivalent of our tourist board is a travesty.

Never mind. There are still the churches to visit.

    

…Impressive outer walls and generally in good repair but otherwise empty and sterile. 

… but there, within easy walking distance, is the white bell tower of the Cathedral of San Sabino

Of a relatively simplistic Romanesque design and built almost entirely in the local creamy white coloured stone (limestone?), the 13th century Cathedral of San Sabino is striking…

  

The Cattedrale di San Sabino. A simple but elegant design and a relatively spartan inside …

However, the highlights of this visit are to be found underneath the cathedral where there is a magnificent Baroque style crypt (housing the relics of Saint Sabinus) and a very interesting and unusual museum (i.e. excavations of earlier ecclesiastical buildings including a particularly well preserved mosaic floor). It is well worth a visit.

… a particularly impressive crypt (above)

The third and final visit in Bari Old Town was to the  Basilica di San Nicola, in which can be found the relics of St Nicholas (Santa Claus). The relics were originally enshrined in Myra, Turkey but were stolen in 1087 and carried to Bari where a new church was built to house them. The external appearance of this church is amongst the least impressive of any of the many churches to be found in Vecchia Bari but inside is quite different.

… Basilica di San Nicola – not a particularly imposing front but inside…

… the ceiling is stunning

This church holds a wide religious significance throughout the Christian world but particularly to the Orthodox Church and in the crypt, most unusual, there is an Orthodox Chapel and two altars (one dedicated to the Catholic rite and the other to the Orthodox rite). An Orthodox service was underway in front the tomb of St Nicholas as I entered and, while I couldn’t understand a word of what was said, the atmosphere was serene (spiritual is perhaps a better word) and the singing of the small congregation was wonderful.

… a small service was underway

There was just time to walk along the promenade (the Lungomare Nazario Sauro) before I left for Lecce:

  

Nice walk along the promenade. Not so sure about the wheel

 

Patras, Greece to Bari, Italy (by Ferry) – Jan 2018

On Friday 19 January I left Ionian Beach Camping for the second time in the last month (excellent site by the way and reasonably priced) and drove the 70 km to Patras for the overnight ferry to Bari.

I had booked the ferry trip online through Aferry.com and the whole booking and travel process went very smoothly. The New South Port in Patras is well signposted and I arrived 3 hours or so in advance of the 6pm sailing time, collected my tickets and boarding instructions from the Anek Offices and settled down in the port car park until boarding commenced at 4pm.

Promptly at 4pm the inner port gates were opened and port security personnel commenced surprisingly thorough searches of each vehicle for potential stowaways (illegal immigrants, predominantly Kurds from Iraq)…

… thereafter it was simply a matter of waiting in designated parking areas alongside the ferry until the vehicle loading started…

The vehicles are packed in like sardines…

… the Van is behind the ship’s funnel

Overnight bag safely stowed in my cabin and it was time to repair to the bar…

… grab a drink, sit by a window and watch the would-be stowaways being chased around the port by security personnel. 

They have the loading of these ferries down to a fine art and we were soon under way:

… that’s an earlier ferry leaving

 … and then, just as it started to get dark, we too were leaving Patras.

It was a 16+ hour ferry journey to Italy (and I didn’t have a particularly good night’s rest even though I took a private cabin in preference to one of the reclining chairs that most travellers opted for) but soon enough we had docked and I was looking for somewhere to park the car while I explored Bari.

… the first sight of Bari Harbour with the Port Pilot in the small boat in the foreground racing out to board the ferry and take us in

… and then I was driving off the ferry and onto Italian soil.

Italy, here I come.

 

Ionian Beach (Glyfa), Greece – Jan 2018

This morning, after a wild camp at Louvro I am back at the Ionian Beach Campsite at Glyfa (where I stayed Christmas Eve). It is just semantics I know but, I’m not sure how anyone can consider an overnight in the Van in the quiet car park of a very pleasant village taverna a “wild camp”. I’m going to have to think of another expression.

The Van and I travel to Bari in Italy tomorrow on the evening ferry from Patras and Ionian Beach is convenient in that regard. It is less than 70 km from the ferry terminal and it has all the facilities I need to prepare for the journey. Indeed, since arriving this morning I have booked passage on the ferry for the Van and myself and I have reserved a private cabin. It’s a 16 hour journey and passengers are not allowed to stay overnight in their motor homes on the ferry during the winter months – safety reasons, I suppose.

The Van and I are all cleaned up (it took me over an hour to get the Van looking right but we’ve been travelling for 3 months now). I perhaps need a haircut but that’s about it.

Van looking spic and span

It is mid afternoon; the sun is shining and I’m sitting, chilling on the beach with my last bottle of Gruner Veltliner and a selection of cold hams and cheeses… Not bad. Having said that, the sea is looking decidedly rough and isn’t that just bloody typical with me about to get on a boat… Not Good. Here’s another opportunity to practise the acupuncture I learned about on that cruise last year – only problem is that the pressure point spot he made with the permanent ink marker is no longer there.

…Not sure about that sea

I’ve really enjoyed Greece (and in some respects am sorry to be moving on) but, I’ll be back in the summer and; meanwhile, there is the anticipation and excitement of all those new places in Italy that I will find. I said that there will be no further mention of Greek castles. I said nothing at all about Italian castles.

Mountain Roads and Paloumpa, Greece – Jan 2018

Vehicle sat-nav systems are designed to present the driver with a selection of routes; most of which are on good quality roads and all of which make some sense. The sat-nav system in the Van is quite different. It is inherently evil.

Call me paranoid if you like but it is as if it wants to continually demonstrate it’s supremacy over me by deliberately selecting silly routes that cross mountains on crumbling, narrow, zig-zag, pot holed roads that would worry pack mules and then; it tries to further belittle me by exhibiting its superior linguistic talents, taking me through remote seemingly empty mountain villages where all signposts are written solely in Greek such that I cannot find my own way. Rant over.

The above google map is not that clear but I believe it reflects yesterday’s journey from Dimitsana

Trying to retrace yesterday’s route has not been easy but so far as I can tell I left Dimitsana on an unnamed road which initially took me across the Lousios Gorge and higher up the mountains and through the villages of Zatouna, Melissopetra, Raftis and Iraia. Of course, I didn’t know that at the time because, as has been said already, the village names are written only in Greek.

It was very cloudy to start with and visibility was limited but every now and then there would be a break in the clouds and I was presented with some quite amazing views. I forgive the sat-nav.

To continue. Following some research I did before commencing this trip, I thought I recognised the next village after Iraia as Paloumpa (home of the famous Dimitris Plapoutas) and I paused to check this with a local lady coming out of the church. She didn’t speak any English and so I am still not certain it was Paloumpa but if the view in the photo below is of the valley of the River Alfeios, and I think it is, then I gained something from taking this particular route. I can tell you about Plapoutas.

A somewhat atmospheric view of the valley that I believe holds the River Alfeios

So, who is Dimitris Plapoutas? He’s an interesting character who, like Theodoros Kolokotronis (see the Nafplio blog), escaped to Zakynthos to join Britain’s 1st Greek Light Infantry Regiment in their fight against Napoleon and his Turkish allies. Like Kolokotronis, Plapoutas worked his way up the ranks and was made a General in the fledgling Greek army in their War of Independence against the Turks (albeit he was subordinate to Kolokotronis). Amongst other things Plapoutas was involved in the Greek successes at Tripoli and Acrocorinth but after the war he was imprisoned in Palamidi with Kolokotronis on charges of High Treason and was sentenced to death. He too was pardoned and he subsequently entered politics, serving in the Greek parliament and Senate, before settling down in his 70’s to start a family. He married a young lady in her 30’s and was known to have had at least one daughter with her.

Apparently his house in Paloumba still stands but it was badly damaged in an earthquake in the 1960’s. I couldn’t find it but that is not too surprising with the amount of ruins around Greece.

Dimitris Plapoutas (1786 – 1865)

The quality of the road improved considerably after Paloumba and I took over from the sat-nav.  I was intending to drive up to Patras to enquire about a ferry across to Italy but stopped off at the small village of Louvro for lunch and, having seen that the local taverna sells a wine from the village of Melissopetra (went through there earlier today), I am tempted to stay overnight.

Above, the local church (in Louvro) and, below, the local wine (from Melissopetra)…

 

Lousios Gorge, Greece – Jan 2018

An unusual but very enjoyable day. The weather wasn’t good this morning (low cloud and showers) and I postponed the ascent of Klinitsa. Plan B was a walk down the Lousios Gorge to view some of the monasteries, churches and/or ruins. Different!

The walk itself did not begin too well. There has been much rain in the area during the last few days and the paths down into the Gorge from Dimitsana were flooded:

  

The early parts of the paths were like streams or small rivers in some places. Still, I have good walking boots and, most important, poles

It took me a (wet) while to get properly underway but by mid morning I was through the worst of the flooded areas and making good time down first the left bank and then the right bank of the River Lousios on a well trodden and clearly marked path to the first monastery of the day, the New Filosofou Monastery:

The first sighting, albeit a distant one, of the New Monastery of Filosofou. In this case “New” is as in a 17th century construction compared with the “Old” Monastery of Filosofou which was a 10th century build. The New Monastery is just above the middle of the above photo, to the right

It didn’t take long to reach the monastery entrance and the local dogs announced my arrival

The reception I received from the resident priest at New Filosofou, Father Magelis, was wonderful (although not altogether surprising – James and Katherine had mentioned him in their blog). Water and (Turkish) Delight were offered – although they don’t use the word “Turkish” in this context (it’s reminiscent of the Ottoman Empire) – and Father Magelis showed me around the sacristy and talked a little about the place. He told me that he has lived in the monastery for the last 8 years and his one companion, the resident monk, has been there considerably longer although he would not be drawn as to how much longer. Not wanting to outstay the welcome I took a few photographs and moved on but I do think Father Magelis would have been quite happy for me to stay longer. What with the flooding I don’t think he will be getting too many other visitors today.

  

It is a small sacristy with some beautiful murals

The next stop was the Old Filosofou Monastery which is about 400 metres further south. The place is long abandoned and totally derelict – but it is still accessible and worth the step up. The approach is overgrown and there have clearly been a number of rockfalls in the area and I suspect it will not be long before this old monastery is put out of bounds for safety reasons:

It is a well concealed Old Filosofou up there

  

Cut into the rock and with none of the mod cons of the New Monastery. Hard living indeed

The third and final monastery of the day, the Timios Prodromos Monastery (the Monastery of St John the Baptist), is less than 30 minutes walk from Filosofou and with the path and the weather continuing to improve I was able to slow down and enjoy more of the views:

That’s the view back towards the New Filosofou

Soon enough I had crossed back on to the left bank of the river and was up underneath the Timios Prodromos Monastery. This place is wholly different to the New Filosofou, being built directly into the cliff and; it is much larger, currently housing 7 priests and monks. It could accommodate more but I am not in the least tempted – this is a seriously austere existence.

There’s the monastery up above

There’s the front entrance but I see no bell

Follow the stairs up, I suppose

Wow. Looking good but still no one around

A young priest greeted me just outside the sacristy (expressing surprise that I should be out in such weather) and invited me to join him for coffee. He has been in the monastery just a few weeks and, having ascertained that I am English and that my journey to Greece started from Manchester almost 3 months ago, he was anxious to know whether I was a Manchester City or Manchester United fan and how each team is doing. There was a long silence after I informed him that I am a West Ham fan but, for all that, he still spent some time showing me around and talking to me about the monastery.

Above, a very small sacristy but space is at a premium with the monastery having been cut into the cliff face

… and some religious scenes painted on the cliff walls alongside the sacristy. These were painted in 1919.

Paintings on the wall to the sacristy. Some of these are said to have been painted in the 17th century. 

The living quarters; rooms with a view. It is said that Theodoros Kolokotronis (remember the Nafplio blog) used this monastery as a refuge during the fight for independence.

The weather was steadily improving and notwithstanding a fairly lengthy stay at Timios Prodromos I had made good time since leaving Dimitsana. I therefore decided that if the weather was still okay when I reached my next stop, the Metamorfosi Sotrosi Church, I would give the ruins at Gortyna a miss and, instead, make my way to the village of Stemnitsa and then on and up Mount Klinitsa. The map I have is not brilliant but it looks as if the summit is only about 500 metres higher and 2 kilometres beyond Stemnitsa.

The church of Metamorfosi Sotrosi is a nice little church with a viewing platform that offers great views up and down the Lousios Gorge:

Metamorfosi Sotrosi

… with views to the south

… and views to the north

The weather at Metamorfosi Sotrosi held off and I set off up to Stemnitsa and then Klinitsa. What a result!

And then it all went pear shaped:

Above, I’m near the Kamari Spring. A hard push of about 40 minutes or so should see me at Stemnitsa but… is that cloud forming?

Yes. The cloud is very quickly getting much thicker. I don’t need this.

There it is then. It isn’t so thick that I’ll not be able to find my way to Stemnitsa but it doesn’t look good for Klinitsa

Well, I made it to Stemnitsa but by then, the cloud or fog was so thick I could barely see 2 metres in front of me. If the church bell hadn’t chimed as I arrived I honestly wouldn’t have been able to find my way around the village.

There was no way I could continue up the mountain. I therefore did the next best thing…

A half litre of wine and a plate of chips… and that’s just for starters.

I’ll worry about getting back to Dimitsana once I’ve eaten. There’s bags of time now I’m not doing the mountain.