My long term love affair with Greece very nearly ended this week with one of the worse, death defying drives ever, car or motorhome, over several mountain ranges from the lovely ancient walled city of Monemvasia, at the tip of the Peloponnese to Nafplio tucked in a curved bay heading back towards Athens.
We had been at another World Heritage site -Mystras, listed ruins of the former Byzantine capital. They were truly spectacular and whilst the weather was against us here it did favour us in seeing two amazing rainbows over the Lakonia plain below.
We had parked in the small town’s car park which again at this time of year was quiet and had asked when partaking of a small meze and refreshment in the local bar if it was Ok to park there. The waitress was more than enthusiastic and said we could park anywhere in the town- it was only a problem when the local camp site was open, which it wasn’t at that moment. After hotfooting it over the ruins we were to head to Nafplio via Sparta, but again the joy of motorhoming is to change your mind and that’s exactly what we did after reading about Monemvasia, which was only a couple of hours drive away and a must see according to LP. The area around Mystras is orange central, but we had peaked too early and had brought a bag full for €3 when leaving our seaside perch in Finikounda. On the drive to and from Mystras we could have got a crate for €2 and in fact Buster could have scrumped quite a few on the drive so overloaded where the trees.
Again in Monemvasis, which essentially a smaller lived in version of Mystras we had parked in the small harbour off grid, and again after enquiring at the local bar if it was OK to park we managed another orange stoning free night and were even given some tasty BBQ bits at the bar.
It was then the nightmare began, having decided to take the alternative route -only 28 minutes longer we were assured by our trusty sat-nav device. My turn to drive the three hour or so journey and off we set gayly waving at the bemused locals as we left. About one hour later when I had truly turned white and all my deep breathing relaxation techniques had failed, with Spotify playing ridiculously apt tunes -like Ain’t No mountain Higher, Rocky Mountain Way I stopped the van on a one in 100 degree hairpin bend and proclaimed I could go no further.
David waited patiently (and nervously) for the moment to pass and with fingers crossed that nothing else was coming up or down (no chance of that, no one else is that stupid to make the drive). The moment did not pass, either Mountain Rescue, the Samaritans or close friend Henry G or all three would have been required for me to continue the drive. David eventually prised my hand off the wheel and handbrake before pushing me over to the passenger side and slowly continued the drive on. As we then made the less terrifying drive over the mountain plains where all that could be seen were rocks and baron hill top vegetation, we decided that it was time for me to get back in the saddle or driving seat and continue. For some reason it had not occurred to me that although we were on a plain we were still up several thousand feet until the road started to decline in all ways and again my worse fears hit me, the declining road had run out and we were all to fall into the abyss ahead of us. Busters, by now burning brakes were firmly put into action, hand brake wretched up as far as I could get it, whilst being absolutely certain that I would not see my next birthday. David gently nudged me over to the passenger seat again, but this time the floor of Buster was my closest friend as David made the twists and turns to the next mountain village. I could tell from the various mutterings and swear words made by him and the speed that the drive wasn’t easy, and he confirmed that he had also been terrified at certain stages.
When we got to the mountain village of Leonidio, famous for Tsakonian aubergines and rock climbing we edged our way through the narrow streets of old, not made for today’s traffic or vehicles and I’m sure the old boy taking his habitual daily walk will get over Busters back side gently edging him out of the way. David again said did I want to take over, with still 2 hours on the sat nav, the precipitous rocks and my stomach now threatening all sorts, I firmly declined. I would like to say the rest of the drive was easier as we made it to the coast road, but it wasn’t as the drops only changed from rock to sea ones and we both would have given anything for a Lidl sighting. The drive took an hour longer than it should have and we were both more than grateful when we eventually pulled up at the harbour car park of Nafplio, exited the van walking like shocked seasick sailors.
Nafplio- is one of Greece’s prettiest and most romantic towns (according to LP) occupying a knockout position on a small port beneath a towering Palamidi fortress. Now, us Greygappers are all for a bit of romance, or at least one of us is!, but what LP doesn’t tell you is that it the mecca for worry beads with at least four stores dedicated to this item. So, another aim of mine was achieved,
I have always hankered after a set, being completely fascinated by watching the Greek men habitually fiddling with them (very rarely have I seen a woman with a set, uhm!) Obviously, I could have done with a set on the drive of horrors but better late than never. The next question was how many sets could I have – one for each hand and a spare might work and which set, there were so many options and prices to be add. It was then that it hit both David and I after trying a few different ones, just like Ollivander from Harry Potter the beads chose you not the other way around! Thankfully the ones that chose me weren’t the very expensive ones, but nevertheless a fair price exchanged hands, and my new worry is how long it will be before I lose them.
Since arriving in Greece we have had some lovely food beyond the usual fresh fish, dips, Greek salad etc, lovely veal stuffed sweet potatoes, gruyere and bacon stuffed figs, light fluffy courgette balls to name but a few, but what seems to be dominating is the ever popular and versatile souvlaki.
So popular is it with us that in one day when attempting to partake of this dish we covered some 12k to do so. Optimistically, in the morning that there would be enough open and to do in the small town of Finikounda we made the first 4k return journey, but there’s only so many frappe’s you can have to while away time and so headed back, returning at the actual lunchtime, assured in our world that we had been informed that it opened at lunchtme to 6pm, but no, still firmly shut. Back we headed to camp, getting our ‘steps’ in for the day. What to do, have pasta in or try at 6pm. We made the journey the third time, firmly wrapped up in our jackets and scarfs as the sun had now set and Yes, as we rounded the corner so the great, truly acclaimed souvlaki restaurant was open -thank goodness as now the desperation had overtaken the desire.
Was it worth it, oh without a doubt and as the week as progressed this favourite Greek fast food either as a gyro or skewered meat version has featured in our day somewhere. Afterall at €2.50 for a gyro, pitta bread stuffed with meat, a few chips and lots of tzatziki where can you go wrong.
As the week ends and we have seen many a fortress, climbed many a ruin I can honestly say we are nearly native now, frappe’s and worry beads in hand as we head for the nearest souvlaki joint.
Will Monday bring my bike and I reunited and working as we make the sea hop over to Spetses- fingers and worry beads crossed.
Top Tips of the Week
Don’t follow the pretty route……
Remember when coming out of the shower that Karen has opened all the blinds in the van- oops!!