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.
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.
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 byexhibiting 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)…
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.
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.
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:
… 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.
I didn’t realise I had stayed in Corinth for so long – 7 days! It went so quickly. I met some interesting people too – Austrian, British, Dutch, German and Swedish – most of them living this itinerant life full time. I’ll only mention one by name, Simon, for somehow persuading me to try barbecued (fresh) sardines. I actually enjoyed the taste (although sometime later they did slightly rebel). No matter; thanks Simon.
I’d probably still be in Ancient Corinth now except last Saturday, whilst catching up on James’ & Katherine’s blog, I read about a particularly enchanting place called Dimitsana. It is a small mountain village towards the centre of the Peleponnese. I decided then and there I had to see it.
Above, that’s Dimitsana… a not untypical mountain village (at least from a distance) with the properties racked down the side of the hill and below; that’s it from a little closer in…
I made it to Dimitsana in the early afternoon having forgotten it is a Sunday and that in all likelihood the area would be full of tourists. It was. No matter, Dimitsana is a little like Ancient Corinth in that the vast majority of visitors are all gone by 4pm and the village reverts to it’s more natural state – a not untypical mountain village (albeit one with more tavernas – suits me).
I parked the Van up (plenty of car parking at the far end of the village) and headed off into the village to buy a local map, find a bar and plan my stay.
Little winding lanes all over the village with, as has been mentioned already, a high incidence (no pun intended) of tavernas and churches
After an hour or so in the taverna relaxing over coffee and baklava I spent the remainder of the afternoon on short walks in and around the village; including a visit to one of the closer monasteries, Panagia Emialon, which is just 2 km or so to the south:
The Panagia Emalion Monastery (above) and it’s view over the Lousios Gorge (below)
On the way back I paused at Panagia Mirtidiotisa to take some photos and I’m thinking this little hillside church is perhaps connected in some way to the Emalion Monastery because one of the monks from the monastery was pottering about there:
Panagia Mirtidiotisa where I paused to say hello to a local monk. His English was not much better than my Greek so it was a short discussion but we sat for a while.
Then it was back to Van to prepare for dinner. That’s the view, below, from where the Van is parked:
And the plan tomorrow? Weather permitting I will go up the mountain behind me, Klinitsa. There’s no snow on it. I need some good exercise and I suspect the views will be fabulous. If the weather is not so good I’ll stay lower and check out more of the monasteries.
Yesterday was a bit of a non-event. Somebody I met the other day, Paul, had a problem with his motor home and it had to be towed into New Corinth for repairs. Paul had to accompany the mechanic and I offered to pet-sit his dog, a rather large Bull Mastiff. I think that is what breed it is:
Meet Hercules. An appropriate name given his size and our current location
Hercules is a lovely animal and was no trouble at all but, never again. How do I get myself into these situations?!?
Moved on from Drepano and Vivari although Vivari has joined my shortlist of possible places to buy a property in. Greece is growing on me all the time. The next move was to Ancient Corinth and the Corinth Canal.
Corinth was inhabited in the Neolithic Period (6,500 to 3,250 BC) and grew to be one of the major cities of antiquity with a population of more than 90,000 in 400 BC. Since then the city’s fortunes have fluctuated wildly with the place being almost totally destroyed in 146 BC by the Romans under Lucius Mummus (who also had every male citizen killed and all women and children sold into slavery); then rebuilt by Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar (both of whom had considerable commercial and financial interests in the area) and then destroyed again in 267 AD after an invasion by the Heruli. Thereafter, Corinth was generally on the decline with further invasions by Huns, Normans, Turks, etc but it was serious earthquake damage in 365 AD, 375 AD and 856 AD (when some 45,000 people were killed) that contributed most to the demise of the city and the final straw came with yet another earthquake in 1858 AD that saw Ancient Corinth evacuated and a New Corinth built some 3 kilometres away.
The last couple of days has seen me parked in what remains of Ancient Corinth. For the most part the place is an archaeological site but a small town has sprung up around the ruins to cater for the tourists who want to visit Ancient Corinth and its attendant hillside fortress of Acrocorinth. I’m using the town as a base from which to visit the remaining places that I want to see in the Peloponnese.
The view from where I first sat in the (developing) village of Ancient Corinth, trying the local wine and some Moussaka…
… and the view behind me, with part of the Temple of Apollo visible in the background. The village has quite literally been built around and in Ancient Corinth…
The archaeological site and museum is worth a visit (closed on Mondays but the first Sunday of every month admission is free). It is one of those sites where there is enough still standing that with just a little imagination you can really feel the place.
There follows three views of the Temple of Apollo, built in 550 BC. In the background of the third photo you can see Acrocorinth:
That is Acrocorinth, an abbreviation of Acropolis Corinth, in the background of the last photo. More of that later
Not sure as to what structure the three Corinthian columns in the following photo were part of but they are what remains of a Roman building put up in Augustus’ time…
For me, one of the more interesting buildings on the site is the Lower Peirene Fountain (there is another Higher Peirene Fountain in Acrocorinth):
The Lower Peirene Fountain above is a Roman construction built on an earlier fountain. Legend has it that Peirene was a woman whose son was accidentally killed by Artemis and she cried so much the Gods turned her into a spring such that the precious water would not be wasted. An alternative legend has it that the winged horse, Pegasus, created the spring by smashing the ground open with his hooves and that it subsequently became his favourite drinking spot. I am inclined to credit Peirene with the lower fountain and Pegasus with the higher one. Even today, the lower fountain continues to supply water to the town.
Another of the more interesting structures to be found in Ancient Corinth is the Roman Odeion or Indoor Theatre:
The Odeion. I don’t know why but, it never occurred to me that the Romans might have built indoor theatres; let alone that the Odeon Cinema chain name was derived from the Roman Odeion.
Enough about Ancient Corinth although I took a great many more photos and there was much more to the place than I have touched on in this blog.
The next day was built around a visit to Acrocorinth which is the name of both the fortress and the 575 metre rock it sits on. It is possible to drive from Ancient Corinth up to a small car park near the main entrance but I elected to walk the 5 kilometres or so each way. There’s a small cafe near the entrance but it appeared closed for the winter.
The 5 km walk up to the fortress took a little over three quarters of an hour. There is no admission charge.
The fortress is predominantly of Venetian and Ottoman architecture and is in reasonably good condition around the entrance area but there is also a Frankish keep to the north east that looks particularly well considering its age.
Above – the three fortified gates that form the entrance to the Acrocorinth
Above (a) photo of the Frankish Tower from within the fortress with the smallest of two mosques in the foreground and (b) a view towards New Corinth from the Frankish Tower
Some of the more distant views from the fortress were fantastic notwithstanding that there was a fair amount of low cloud about:
Above is the view from the Venetian Church…
… of a secondary fortress a few kilometres distant
Inside the walls of Acrocorinth (there are more than 2,000 metres of wall) it is possible to view monuments of a sort from each of the main historical periods in the citadel’s history. At the highest point is the sanctuary of Aphrodite with an early Christian basilica on its ruins; below that there is the Ano Peirene Fountain, Byzantine cisterns, the Frankish Tower, a Venetian Church and Turkish mosques, houses & fountains.
The final picture to be included in this blog is of the Frankish Tower from the highest point of the Acropolis:
A Temple to the Greek Goddess of Love, Aphrodite, once stood at the highest point of the Acropolis but there is little left of that particular construction (nor indeed of the Byzantine Basilica that was built on top of it). Only other point of note concerning the Temple is that 1,000 prostitutes were said to work in the immediate vicinity. Not sure as to whether or not Aphrodite (or her Roman equivalent, Venus) would appreciate that but it could help explain the significant growth in the city’s population under the Greeks and Romans.
Okay, that’s it. I promise there will be no more castles or fortresses while I am in Greece.
Today was my fourth day in Drepano. I’ll be staying another night but, thereafter, I must move on or, at this rate, I’ll not leave Greece at all.
I mentioned the other day that I couldn’t find my intended campsite when I arrived in Drepano. It’s actually right next door to where I have been staying the last few days (but I didn’t realise that until recently). The site I am parked up on, Camping New Triton, is officially closed for the Winter and not scheduled to open until April but the operators, the family Christopoulos, overlooked this fact after I mistakenly pulled up at their site and hooked up to their electricity supply. If that wasn’t enough Yorgos Christopolous then invited me to sit with his family and partake of the local wine. The generosity of the Greek people surpasses all expectations and this is particularly true of Yorgos and family who have since shared Tsipouro with me (I’m developing a taste for it) and presented me with kilos of oranges, mandarins and tangerines. Thank you, Yorgos, Sofia, Vasiliki and Vagelis. Thank you Camping New Triton.
The Epiphany or Fota, is a particularly important day in the Greek Orthodox Calendar (so much so that it is a public holiday throughout Greece) and, today, it was celebrated on the beach just outside of Camping New Triton in some style.
For those who don’t know, Epiphany is considered the anniversary of when Jesus Christ was baptised and it is celebrated every January 6. January 6 is also a Saint’s Day in Greece (for a certain Agia Theofania whom I know nothing about except that he was a man). As if that is not reason enough to celebrate, January 6 is also the day when the “kalitkatzari” (hobgoblins) that appear over the Christmas period and live in some of the Christmas decorations (particularly the holly and the ivy and other green bits) are sent back from whence they came by the Church. This is so in the UK too and it is why we are supposed to take our (green) Christmas decorations down before the 12th day of Christmas ends (January 5) and Epiphany begins (January 6). Bad luck for the rest of the year if you don’t.
In Greece, during Epiphany, waters are blessed and all evil spirits are banished (the baptism of Jesus helps explain the day’s association with water) and at seaside, lakeside and riverside locations across the country, priests throw a cross into the water and young locals compete to catch it both for the privilege and a blessing. The same happened in Drepano today and a very joyful affair it was too.
A table was set up on the beach for the priest very early in the day…a number of contestants started to assemble, as did the dignitaries and a sizeable crowd of observers
… before I knew it the cross/crucifix was thrown into the water and retrieved by the biggest and strongest swimmer (no surprises there then!), who promptly returned it to the Priest…while the crowd cheered and a passing boat set off flares and sounded it’s klaxon in celebration and … is that Nadia to the left of the second photo?
Blessings followed; first the young man who had retrieved the cross and then any and all of those who joined the celebration and wanted to be blessed...
… and, at the end, there was still time available for the Priest to take “selfies” with his pals…
I almost forgot. I promised to tell you about Vivari and it’s fish restaurants. About half of the restaurants in Vivari are open at this time of the year and the speciality of all, not surprisingly, is fish. I had a fine meal last night; it was so good that I walked back to the village after this morning’s religious celebrations to take my lunch there. The setting and the food was special…
Vivari and it’s Bay…
The local dry white wine and Prawn Saganaki (freshly caught prawns cooked in cheese, onions, tomatoes and chilli)…
I don’t have the words to adequately describe how pleasant it was sitting on the beach in the sunshine, right by the waters edge, eating and drinking such a fine meal. It was followed by a large tsipouro.
It was a few days ago now but late in the afternoon, feeling most impressed by Nafplio, I drove 10 km south with a view to using a Drepano campsite as a base for exploring other parts of the Argolid Peninsula.
I didn’t find the campsite I was looking for (that can happen when you don’t turn the sat-nav on) but fortune favoured me. More about that when I write about Drepano. For now it will suffice to say that I was able to use Drepano as a base and this morning I visited Epidaurus, Ermioni and Vivari.
Epidaurus is only about 30 km from Drepano and I was there by 09.00 to see the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus which is part of the Sanctuary of Asklepios archaeological site. The Theatre, built between 330-20 BC, is still used to host performances on a regular basis. It is supposedly the “finest and best preserved example of classical Greek theatre in the World” and, yes, it looks the part. More than that, it is said that “the sound of a match struck is perfectly audible to all spectators, even in the topmost row of seats… nearly 60 metres away”. I don’t know about that but, certainly the acoustics are excellent…
The Theatre of Epidaurus. That’s a US tourist down the bottom and he was talking to his partner, sitting in the front row, and I could hear them perfectly. I could almost tell you what accent he had. The acoustics are impressive
After checking out the Theatre, I spent another hour or so looking at the rest of the Sanctuary of Asklepios (including the small museum) but, for me, this site is really all about the Amphitheatre.
Other aspects of the Sanctuary of Asklepios do not compare with the smaller sanctuary the Greeks built at Butrint (see Ksamil, Albania blog), especially in terms of atmosphere, but the setting is especially beautiful on a sunny day
From Epidaurus, it was a 50 km drive to Ermioni which is a gem of a small fishing town on the southern tip of the Argolid Peninsula. Ermioni has been described as sleepy and remote because there are just two narrow twisting roads over the surrounding hills that lead in and out of the town (and there is no bus service) but, that will be the same for many coastal towns on the Peloponnese and in any event, Ermioni is served by a ferry service connecting it to Piraeus and three of the Saronic Islands (Poros, Hydra and Spetses). It wasn’t at all sleepy today.
Ermioni appeared authentically Greek (not that I am an expert) in that there was none of the usual “tourist tack” about the place and whilst I was there it seemed the whole population was out and about either working (fishing boats going in and out and the majority of restaurants and tavernas open) or; as was the case with a large number of young men on the waterfront, singing and chanting for hours whilst they meticulously covered a fishing boat in palm fronds and plants and the like in preparation for tomorrow’s Epiphany. More about that tomorrow.
… singing and chanting for hours…
My last trip of the day was the 60 km trip up to the seaside village of Vivari which sits alongside Drepano and only 3 km from my temporary base. It was recommended to me as the best place to get fresh fish. I’ll let you know about that in due course.