11 to 12 June – historical hot springs, phonetic food

via Thermopylae to Pelion
We awoke at Isthmia on 11th which is Neil’s birthday.  I had forgotten to bring a card but we would go out for a meal if possible.  The plan was to stay at a free overnight stop near the hot springs at Thermopyles in the pass where Leonidis and his betrayed few faced the might of Xerxes and his thousands. To get there meant crossing from the Peloponnese to the mainland via the bridge over the remarkable Corinth canal.  corinth canal
Having been considered since ancient times this six kilometre canal was not cut through the isthmus until the late 19th century.  It is at sea level at both ends so has no locks, effectively making the Pelopennese an island, and it provides a short cut from Adriatic to Aegean for shipping.  Apparently it is not used much for anything but tourist boats now, but is still an impressive sight.
It was a three or four hour drive, partly on motorway, and ended in a spectacular mountain crossing.  We were denied the spectacular view however due to the mist over the tops.  In fact it was overcast and a bit drizzly once down the other side as well.  It had never occurred to me that Thermopylae was so called due to hot springs – hot sulphuric water pours out from under the side of the mountain in several places, bubbling into pools in places or cascading down the rocks as a waterfall in others.  The hot springs are, remarkably,  undeveloped. There is a rather decrepit hotel that was abandoned as a commercial enterprise some years ago. It was thriving in 2000 when our copy of the Rough Guide was published but had been empty when peejays last reported in 2014.  At first glance it seemed to be back in use, albeit in a fairly tatty way, with clothes and bedding hanging over balconies to dry. We drove round the back to where the hot water steamed from base of the cliff and by good fortune had the rocky pool to ourselves for twenty minutes.

It was raining lightly at the time and a wallow in the hot water was a bizarre treat, notwithstanding the smell of sulphur that accompanied it – and clung lightly to our clothes afterwards.  Good for aches and pains apparently!
Walking back to the van it became clear that the hotel was not offering spa treatments to the aching anymore but was now occupied by refugees – officially or not was unclear. Not only was laundry hanging over the balconies but bedding, bicycles, household implements – everything too valuable to leave lying around outside.  Sad to say, being the only van there and, on the one hand, having lone men wandering around the muddy parking area clad only in their budgie snugglers, and on the other having groups of people hanging around with nothing to do, it did not feel totally comfortable as an overnight stopover.  The lone men were lorry drivers stopping at the side of the road for a dip the same as us, the weary families just waiting for something better to happen in their lives.  Feeling guilty at our probably unfair assumptions, but relieved at the same time, we made the decision to travel on a few miles to a nearby campsite.
Before that we paid homage at the magnificent monument to Leonidis erected on the very site of the battle, opposite the mound where the 297 heroes who died alongside him were buried.
The pass itself is no longer the obstacle to invasion it once was – formerly a narrow strip of land, a scant one hundred metres wide between mountain and sea, there are now four flat kilometres of farmland before you get to the sea.  Geomorphology seems to have decided to make it easier for any future invaders and spare the Spartans another heroic but doomed  stand.
thermo pass
Camping Venezuela is on the road that runs beside the beach, but the cool drizzly weather did not show it in its best light.
venezuala beach
It was pretty much still closed with only one other van and, later, a tiny tent occupied by a couple on a motorbike.  I remembered our camping trips of old in a tiny tent in the rain – always with a sincere prayer that it would not leak. But at least we always had a car to fall back on if push came to shove.  The beach was coarse sand with some silt as well, which always looks a bit dirty – and there were a lot of mild mannered stray dogs and puppies around.   Poor babies:-(
venez pups
I thought there was no taverna nearby for the birthday dinner but strolling along the beach we fell into conversation with our fellow campers, a cheerful young Greek couple from the tent. They pointed one out hiding behind some trees a couple of hundred yards away. venez tavernaVery simple, authentic food they said, as we conversed in Anglo-Greco-Italiano. They had eaten there the night before and were enthusiastic about what they had eaten  – phonetically, scored-val-yay with horta. When we got there the owner told us the menu choices were fish or meat and no-one spoke English to explain exactly what was what.  The owner phoned her daughter to come and talk to us and she whizzed up a few minutes later. Then it transpired that she had also met the young Greek couple on their walk and they had told her what we should eat: scored-val-yay with horta to start and a plate of small fishes to follow. Horta is very like spinach and both it and the scored-val-yay were delicious.  The owner came out and explained how to make the latter with a fair bit of mime and the help of ingredients from the shelf in the kitchen.  It seems it is white bread, without the crusts, soaked in oil, a bit of vinegar plus garlic and salt then pressed somehow into a loose paste. Definitely no food processor.  We chose fish and each had a plate of lightly fried sardines – with a squeeze of lemon a memorable birthday meal.
birthday dinner
The local strays come and look at you pleadingly but non-threateningly and gobble up the fish tails and bread. The owner shoos them away gently from time to time but they don’t go far.
venez dog
We didn’t swim from the silty beach the next day but made an early start for the longish trek past Volos onto the Pelion peninsula within striking distance of Milina.  We had now arranged to be there on 13th and keys would be waiting for us. This time we opted for motorway nearly all the way as there was no other obvious route that looked remotely passable.  Also the tolls had seemed cheap on the bits we had taken before.  This was to prove wrong – especially as motorhomes seem to be in quite a high class of vehicle tariff. Unlike the french peage system where you pass through gates to get on and then pay to get off, here there are  gates across the road at random places charging seemingly random prices to continue.  The first one at 1.30 euros was OK then we got into some pricier ones ending up totalling more than thirty euros for a couple of hours’ drive.   And you have to pay cash. Parts of the road were spectacular however swooping along the coast or over a mountain.
Volos is quite big and looked nice but we ploughed through (still not finding a data sim) to Camping Sikia at Kala Nera.  This is another campsite on a steep slope down to the beach with another steep and narrow access road. The manager comes out to greet you with a hefty chock in her hand which she wedges under your front wheel as you pause at reception – a habit clearly learned from past experience!  Together with shady camping spots on the terraces it has bungalows, apartments and an unobtrusive hotel on site as well.  We get a good spot on a shady terrace.  It is a pretty long walk to the pretty smart showers once you have actually figured out which way to go – more signage would not go amiss in this hilly mini-village! Down the slope to the beach:

it is a narrow shingle strip stretching around a small bay and the water is clear and cool.  Our campsite is on the steeper part of the bay and is adjacent to another which is on the flatter part and seems bit less sophisticated.   Side by side they front the beach and at the moment both have very few campers. In high season I can see there would be a fair amount of hot flesh jostling for space as the the size of the beach is clearly totally inadequate for the number of spaces both large campsites have on offer.

Tomorrow – one hour to Milina and three nights in a house.  Really looking forward to it after nearly a month in the van.