The chaos of embarkation was not repeated for disembarkation at Patras because many vehicles had left the boat in Igoumenitsia four hours previously, leaving plenty of manoeuvering space below decks. We drove straight off and turned onto the wrong road at the first junction – well, not wrong, alternative. Instead of the wide New National Road described in the book we were directed onto the old road which winds through all the small and narrow towns on the eleven mile journey. Good start in a new country. Thanks Stella.
We chose the campsite at Kato Alissos for its proximity to Patras and because it is right on the sea and is in the ACSI book – 17 euros. Reception thought we may prefer a sunny spot as it had rained and thundered for the previous several days. Since it was now quite late in the day, we decided to stay a couple of days to consider a route and hot weather was forecast so we picked a shady one anyway. This far south and east we cannot get a signal so there is no satellite-shade conflict! Our great relief at being safely ensconced in a new country had coloured our view of the site. Next day we realised it was actually a bit decrepit – not in a really bad way but tattier than many around the edges and money clearly needs spending. And the beach could do with a bit of love and attention lavishing upon it – erosion by the sea and the economy, has resulted in some decay.
There was a nice spot for swimming at one side, the water a clear, pale translucent turquoise and with a view of the elegant Rio-Antirrio suspension bridge in the hazy distance. Despite the frayed edges, it was still a good shady site with perfectly usable and clean facilities and more hot water than you could shake a stick at. They have an attractive restaurant under a huge olive tree overlooking the sea and the sunset.
They had not spared the garlic in the tzatziki and the lamb chops and chips were excellent. It is obviously mostly used as a first or last overnight stop for travellers on the Patras ferries as vans came and went at odd hours for a campsite but no doubt matching the timetable of the various ferry routes.
Reading the old Rough Guide I finally and shamefully understand that the Peloponnese is the region containing many of the locations and actions of the heroic figures of the classic Greek period. Last year, coincidentally, I had decided to read some of the classics of the ancient world and started with Homer’s Illiad and later, after recovering the will to tackle more blank verse in translation, the Odyssey. At last the names, places and landscape began to tie up. Our next overnight stop was a mere two hours drive way and between here and there, in the mountains, was Olympia – an ancient sanctuary with temples to Zeus and Hera it is the birthplace of the Olympic Games. What a place it is. Abandoned and destroyed as pagan by decree of a later Christian Roman emperor and then finished off by at least two earthquakes, columns and stone blocks are scattered across several acres of wooded valley.
The various buildings are identifiable by the lower courses of stone walls and pediments together with information panels with plans, diagrams and even mock ups of the originals. The buildings were well described by writers and poets in antiquity so can be visualised in some detail. There is an atmosphere very evocative of things immortal and mythological.
Every four years the Olympic flame is kindled at the remaining stones of Hera’s altar. And there at the edge of the extensive site is the stadium where the first one hundred metres (approx) was run in the eighth century BC and every four years thereafter for the next twelve hundred years. Spectators sat on the embankments at either side with proper stone terraces for the VIPS.
Neil went for a fast getaway – in the wrong direction as it happens but otherwise it would just be a picture of his bottom.
It was hot. We had arrived not long after noon and spent a couple of hours wandering the site. The site has been grown through by tall trees offering shelter but the heat of the day was winning against my ability to take it all in. So weary and hot were we that we almost decided against the walk to the museum – what a mistake that would have been! The prospect of a cafe and a cold drink tipped the balance and we sweated the heat-blasted few hundred yards to the cool, cool courtyard to find the cafe was closed:-( Mercifully the drinks machine was working and we had the necessary coins. Thanks be to Bacchus! Two freezing lemonades later we were ready to face the exhibits. The finds from the excavation of the site and the statuary are breathtaking. I’ve seen ancient statues and friezes in museums in the UK of course, but the size, quantity and quality of those broken figures and their warlike accoutrements right there in situ was an experience of a different sort.
There are captivating displays of of votive offerings in the form of miniature stylised figures of people and animals.
There are the actual shields and helmets worn by the warriors up to three thousand years ago. Both moving and amazing. If you can, go. But don’t pose by the outsize statues of the male nudes – as so many visitors seem inclined to do – the caretakers don’t like it.
We found the shorter path back to the car park which took us through the high street of the modern village with its tourist shops. Eschewing fridge magnets of ladies in white robes holding torches we found the one book shop selling maps of a usable scale. 1:1,000,000 in a road atlas of Europe does not work for me! 1:200,000 is enough to navigate by. Any roads too small to appear at that scale are likely to be roads we should be avoiding in our portly van in any case. They are sheet maps so a bit ungainly in the passenger seat but of the unrippable sort so should at least last the trip. I was sure the price was €6.80 but the bill came to €17.20 so maybe it was €8.60. The man did carefully put a sticker for his shop where the price was and I have not yet peeled it off to see if I had proved more rippable than the maps. Sometimes the challenge is just not worth it:-(
Moving on to find a beach…
There is a place called Sougia on the shores of the wine dark Libyan sea, on the south coast of Crete, to which we have returned time after time. A village situated at the end of a valley it spreads itself unassumingly around the middle of the bay and cannot be expanded due to the unexcavated remains of an ancient port alongside. Along the sea front it has a run of tavernas under the ancient tamarisks and there you can also find modest rooms in shady, fragrant gardens. At the east end the village peters out into a rough track that curves on beside the beach to the cliffs at the far end. Under a tamarisk tree there is often parked a camper van with lengths of cloth suspended for shade and a water bag hanging up to heat in the sun. This is probably the image that first seeded the idea to find a beach to park by in Greece. An hour later, in Kalo Nero, we found a place to rest our wheels by the sea. In the shade of a row of tamarisk trees and mere feet from the sea – a view to travel a long way for and an ocean made for a cool, cool swim.
It was close to fulfilling the image we had conceived. The beach was mostly small pebbles and the water the same pale, translucent turquoise of before – a colour we would become used to. The beach shower meant we used little of our on-board water, even managing a quick hair wash with shampoo once the salt of several swims had started making my hair a bit too crispy. We were not alone. At least ten other vans had pointed their windscreens at the sea but there was space enough for all. The parking is a couple of hundred yards from the row of tavernas along the seafront of the village, one of which we ate in that night. I had my favourite, fish soup, and was not disappointed; Neil had his, melanzane, and was well pleased.
We spent two and a half days swimming and blogging in the shade. (The 3 roaming sim was working well intermittently but we still wanted to get hold of a Greek sim for better connectivity.) Why did we not stay longer? We had food, water, solar power – but there is no place to empty the toilet. It should last three days but we start getting a bit nervous after two: travelling with a toilet is brilliant but has its limitations.