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Pippins in the Peloponnese PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

Travel Diary Autumn 2010: Pippins in the Peloponnese

Rosemary & Andy Newton
October 2010

Rosemary and Andy travel in a Rapido 746F, which they have had since the untimely death of their previous motorhome, Tilly, in Bulgaria in 2005. The dramatic and laconic account of the drowning of Tilly after 11 years of faithful service, and the subsequent bureaucratic battles with the Bulgarian Customs and UK Insurance Companies, is well told at: http://www.pippins.me.uk/2005/2005_bulgaria.htm.

Since 2001 the Newtons have motorhomed in France, Turkey, Bosnia, Croatia and now Greece, as well as travels within the UK, covered in their own website (http://www.pippins.me.uk/index.htm ). 'Pippins', by the way, refers both to the apples they would like to grow and the name of their house in England.

Since 2007 they have aimed to travel for 2 months in May and June, and again in September and October. We are all fortunate to be able to look over their shoulders, in words and pictures, and thereby experience Europe afresh.

Pictures will be regularly uploaded to – www.photoblog.com/bacchanalia  This promises to be a better site than previously used, as it shows pictures at a reasonable size without enlarging.

See their Travel Log: Switzerland and Beyond by Motorhome Summer 2011

Here is Rosemary's Travel Log for Greece:

Thursday 2 September 2010. We had an uneventful drive to Dover and had our lunch in the National Trust car park over looking the Channel and docks - a useful spot. The crossing was smooth and we were entertained by Barbara and Robert, who told us travellers' tales from their eventful 85 years. We spent the night at our usual spot overlooking the harbour at Gravelines, which had become very popular. There were at least 30 vans - a mixture of British, French, Dutch and Belgian.

Friday 3 September 2010. After a wander to admire the flowers in the town and shop for bread we drove on. As we joined the motorway we saw more than a dozen men emerging from the top of a lorry drawn up on the hard shoulder!

The scenery is usually rather boring but today looked mysterious and interesting in the mist. We followed our usual route south-west through Lille, Charleroi (Belgium), Luxemburg and Karlsruhe (Germany). We were looking for a new spot for the night and at last ended up at Pforzheim in a rather drab spot, but only for the night.

Saturday 4 September 2010. Smooth drive through Germany with no problems till we hit Austria, which appeared to be one solid traffic jam, from the border, across the Fern Pass and all the way to Innsbruck. It took us ages and we decided to spend the night at Neustift in Stubai Valley, which we had visited before. I did a lovely walk through the houses perched above the valley.

Sunday 5 September 2010. It was bitterly cold as we woke. The promised early start did not quite materialise but we were on the road by 8.30 and took the old road over the Brenner Pass. (The new Austrian Autoroute is very expensive indeed for a very easy pass.) We decided to take the Italian Autoroute to Venice, although 50 miles further it promised to be a lot easier than the route through the mountains. We nearly got wedged with an Italian log lorry last time we were near Cortina. We had previously found Italian motorways to be good and reasonably priced. We were flagged down by another camper who pointed out our flattening wheel: thank goodness for our good pump. We missed the turning off for Venice - not Sally's fault as she did not recognise the new road. Fraught moment!

We eventually found the 'Aire de Camping Car', beside the main car park, costing an arm and leg. (25 Euros for 1st 12 hours and 16 Euros per 12 hours thereafter!!!) However, once we found the brand new people-mover it was only 15 minutes at most into the city. The mover was a horizontal lift, looking a bit like an elevated mono rail.

Venice was exactly like I expected, very busy and constantly interesting with so many pictures at every turn. Only surprise was how very low rise it all is - hardly seems out of the water.  We only got as far as the Rialto Bridge because there was a regatta taking place which dated from the 13th century - lots of races between the various areas of the city  and a procession of historic boats. We eventually got a space sitting on the water's edge right beside the bridge and had to lift our feet every time a race went past, out of the wash. We were at the starting spot for their university boat race!  By the time we left it was getting late so we wandered back through the streets. Following the map did prove easier than expected.

Have been smiling about the telegram someone sent - 'roads flooded, please advise'. Was it Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, Noel Coward?

Rather worried during the evening when I developed a funny tummy.                                                

Monday 6 September 2010. A grey drizzly chilly morning after a poor night. I still had a poorly tummy so had no breakfast and tried not to panic. Andy changed the tyre and wondered if it was the same problem we had 2 years ago in Greece on the way back from Turkey when the wheel rims had cracked.

We decided to risk going into Venice and fortunately I had no further trouble. We also decided not to go too far and risk getting lost but wandered as far as the Accademia Bridge and admired St Mark's Square over the water, hoping to get there on our way back. Loads of shops selling elaborate carnival masks. We came across one of the boat yards that mended and made gondolas. They were hauling one out of the water - fascinating to realise they have had the identical design for 5 centuries. I really have fallen in love with Venice - no surprise really.

We were at the ferry port with plenty of time and were soon loaded - the ferry stops at 2 spots before ours (Patras), so we were loaded right to the front. It then seemed strange sitting for a couple hours waiting for the ship to sail, but when it did we sailed right past Venice, including the start of the Grand Canal and St Mark's. We were being followed out by the enormous Costa Fortuna(!!) which we had last seen in Dubrovnik 2 years ago. Looking back we could just see her superstructure towering over Venice as she wove her way out. It really accentuated how very low-rise Venice is.

The 'Europa Palace' is very smart with pleasant lounges and a nice sun deck. Camping on board is great fun. There were vans of all sizes; one was decorated with balloons and later we heard 'happy birthday'. One car had a tent on a roof rack. Everywhere there were people in their own little worlds, very cosy.  On deck there were lots of encampments and later in the evening we came across a couple fast asleep on inflated airbeds with the dog asleep between them. Somewhere else there were hammocks. Both these were in position for the two nights.

Tuesday 7 September 2010. Woke to bright sunshine after a lazy start and spent the day sketching, reading and knitting. It was getting warmer all the time but with a breeze at sea. In the afternoon we cruised down the coast of Albania, very forbidding with steep cliffs, gradually giving way to slightly flatter valleys, where there were towns of mostly concrete flats as far as I could see. It was dusk when we reached the port of Igoumenitsa, northern Greece at 7.30 pm, leaving again at 8.00. Most people got off and a few embarked. We then made our way across the water to Corfu, with the most amazing sunset above the islands. I have never seen such a blue/ red sky. It was almost dark when we docked at Corfu, 9.30 pm, where a few people got off and embarked. We then went to bed ready for an early start.

Wednesday 8 September 2010. We had an early start at 4.30 ready for prompt disembarkation at 5.00 am. We had intended to take the local road but were glad of the toll road and one way to go in the dark! It did not show any sign of light till 6.45, when we were almost at Corinth where we wanted to look at the canal. We eventually found the northern start of the canal and crossed the slippery bridge that goes below the water to allow ships to pass. We then looked at the canal from the bridge high above the cutting, which was very touristy but impressive - I had not realised it was designed by Hungarian engineers - and lastly saw the submersible one at the southern end, where we were given lots of local information by a very friendly man helping to prepare a ship to go north through the canal.

We then set off for Isthmia Camping (still only 11.00 am), where we had a spot right by the sea. A German rushed over to tell us that it was 6 degrees at home that evening while it was becoming very warm indeed here. We put up the sunshade and chilled for the rest of the day.

I went for a short stroll up the lane and saw a very local bar with oil cloth tables under the stars, and a taverna that looked straight out of 'Mamma Mia'. Also 2 elderly ladies trying to make a phone call from a box, peering with a torch.

Thursday 9 September 2010. The camp site is so pleasant we decided to stay another day. Limited where I can walk from here but gave us a chance to sort out a few jobs and relax.

Friday 10 September 2010. This morning we tore ourselves away from the site at Isthmia Beach: such a good site we wondered if we would find anything as good again. Only drawback, and a big one for me, was the lack of anywhere to explore from the site.

We drove just 28 miles down the coast to Palea Epidavros, where there is an ancient city that now is under the sea. All that remains is a small theatre nearby, and a larger more noted one with a sanctuary 10 miles away.

The campsite was less swish than the previous one but we had a spot right on the water's edge, with no chain link fence in between, and lovely views of surrounding islands. Wonderful. After lunch I painted for a while and then went in for a 'swim'. I am a very keen non-swimmer - don't ask! The beach and water were perfect and I felt totally confident - in  my arm bands.

We then went for a wander into town - pleasant but nothing special - a harbour in a magnificent natural bay, busy with a  mixture of fishing and pleasure craft including Sunsail. When we got back to the site the same strong wind as yesterday had got up at the same time - about evening meal time. We ate in the van with the magnificent view, wondering if it was such a good idea to be that very close with all the sea spray!

Andy found an article that attempted to explain the Greek problems, which said the national debt was equivalent to £250,000 for every working adult!

Saturday 11 September 2010. The weather was not so great today, but a lovely sunrise that came up out of the sea. After breakfast I had a walk, then sketched, but then a storm with lots of rain drove us indoors during lunch and into the afternoon. There was another burst of rain after we managed a walk to the small theatre and onto the headland with views. It is interesting how green the foliage is, despite months of dry weather. We walked through orange and lemon groves and saw some very ancient olive trees. Were they in use when the theatre was new? The campsite was much busier during the evening and again I walked along a short but totally charming illuminated avenue of palm trees beside the sea.

Sunday 12 September 2010. An attempt at an early start and we were at the Theatre (Epidavros) and Sanctuary of Asclepius by 9.30. We did not need to worry about the heat as there was a lovely breeze.  The theatre was most impressive indeed, 3rd century BC and seating for 14,000, restored but not spoilt. The acoustics were amazing, we really could hear coins dropped and paper torn while sitting way up in the gods. The admission costs were most reasonable - 6 euros. We then wandered around the sanctuary and healing centre dedicated to Asclepius: lovely scents amongst the pines, most atmospheric and scenic.

Andy's tooth, with which he has an ongoing problem, started up once more on the drive to Nafplio and we parked with ease on the jetty, overlooking the town and tiny Venetian castle in the bay.  We failed to find the tourist information office to ask about a dentist but enjoyed a leisurely wander around the streets that had been built by the Venetians. By then tablets had eased Andy's pain. The town was charming, full of flower-decked balconies and avenues. The main square was full of café tables and also little boys playing a very energetic game of football - the goalie very seriously donned his gloves.

Andy returned to the van while I continued to wander down streets full of busy café tables and decked with flowers. Eventually I came across a pharmacy, who gave me the name of a dentist who had trained in Denmark and spoke English. I returned to the van and we decided to overnight where we were, there being at least 30 other vans lined up along the water front with us, all with a wonderful view. We watched an extremely large private yacht sail into the harbour – whose, I wonder - right beside waiting chauffeured limousines. (Later we found it was a charter yacht - if you have to ask how much …..) The taxi fleet in Nafplio was very smart indeed - all dark maroon Mercedes.

We then saw a beam of light, from the sun down behind the opposite hills, light up the underside of a dark grey cloud. I've never seen anything like it - it looked just like something out of a classical painting with a chariot, or perhaps a saint looking heavenward.

During the evening we wandered back into town, fortunately with our brollies as we needed them, though the warm rain did not seem to spoil everyone's perambulation. However the rain really came on when we got back to the van and I wondered how the people who were eating outside fared.

Monday 13 September 2010. We were up early and left the van at 8 am to search for a dentist. Not as easy as it sounds!!! We stopped so many times and asked the way, directed hither and thither! At about 9 am a lady took us to what we thought we were looking for. I then asked Andy if he had his E111 (presumably the EHIC: European Health Insurance Card). As he had not, I left him and walked back to the van, hoping to goodness I would find him again. The E111 was not in the safe. I had everything out a dozen times, then as I was leaving the van suddenly thought of somewhere else and there it was! When I got back to Andy we were in the wrong place but he had been told where to go!

We then called in several places that had red crosses outside. Just inside one door was a wall chart of bones and limbs; in another an elderly lady shook her head when Andy showed her his teeth, and proceeded to pull up her skirt to show him her knee - we were not in the right place. We then called at a dentist but not the one we had on the paper. When eventually we found her – at 10 am - there was no reply to the door bell. So we went back to the other one we had found - a charming young lady who was late arriving because her son was having his first day at school!

Medical practitioners seem to work by themselves and this one had mother to help as dental nurse and receptionist when required. Her mother lived in the flat across the landing which served as a small waiting room. The dentist gave Andy antibiotics and would not accept any payment!

After a collapse back at the van, I wandered into the Folklore Museum, full of ethnic, and 19th century costumes, very similar to our own of the period. As Andy was feeling better we had lunch in town, then after another rest caught up with our emails. We looked in on a Greek Orthodox service, all darkness and gold paint, candles and glittering icons. We love the sound of the liturgy and the apparently relaxed attitude as people come and go. They were decorating the statues and icons with a plant.

Andy was feeling poorly once more, so I had a last stroll and got into conversation with a yachtswoman who had sailed from Portsmouth and was now full-timing in the Med. They did seem a bit stuck, always having to be by the coast - our options were far greater.

Tuesday 14 September 2010. A rather bad night as the antibiotics seemed to have greatly intensified Andy's snoring, which became painfully loud. By 3 am I was forced to make up the front bed and take refuge there. Andy seemed a bit better in himself in the morning. He did not seem to have disturbed himself but his mouth remained very painful.

We had a morning stroll around Nafplio, it really is a charming place. Andy stocked up on anti-inflammatory drugs - a lot easier than he thought. There were lots of people coming out of church clutching that plant, which I identified as basil.  I found out that it was the day they remembered St Helena finding the True Cross, and use basil as a symbol of the cross I think.

We then drove the few miles up the hill to Mykines ready for tomorrow's visit to the World Heritage site of Mycenae.  Later in the afternoon we went for a local walk (from the book) but came back before planned because once again very dark clouds threatened, though nothing came of it. The site was very quirky and small, run by a very friendly elderly couple who showered us with gifts - grapes, pine cones and fresh figs. There were pots everywhere - in the wash rooms there are many plastic flowers and improving pictures. Everything was brightly coloured. It did seem expensive at 18 euros, however, and the facilities were not very clean.

Wednesday 15 September 2010.  It was a good job we were up at the car park for ancient Mycenae by 8.30 am as it was already nearly full of camper vans! The setting for the site is rather like Corfe Castle, on a hill between mountains. Most of what remains at Mycenae dates from 1350-1200 BC. The Mycenaeans built a highly centralised culture, were great traders and disappeared suddenly without trace.

There are really enormous walls surrounding the citadel, varying from 4-10 metres high and as thick. The most famous feature is the Lion Gate, topped with an enormous lintel and featuring a carving of two lions, that was the oldest relief for 1,500 years! The whole complex centred around the Palace and within the walls was found spectacular treasure by Schliemann (he of Troy) including 'the mask of Agamemnon'. Another noted feature was the enormous beehive tombs, the largest of which was called the 'Treasury of Atrias' by Pausanias, who was a tourist in the 2nd century AD and wrote the first guide book of the area! Later it was called the tomb of Agamemnon, which is amusing because Andy had already seen that in Turkey! For over 1000 years it had been the largest domed structure on earth. It was amazing how they had shaped a 120 ton lintel to make the curve of the beehive. The whole site was most awe inspiring in its scale.

We came back down to Nafplio and after lunch Andy found a café with internet access, while I spent the afternoon sketching. Andy's tooth continued to play up and by the evening he was feeling very unwell.  We decided he needed to go back to the dentist in the morning

Thursday 16 September 2010. We set off for the dentist in good time. This time the door was answered by her father, who spoke no English. He explained she was not there and by cradling, explained she was looking after a child. We tried to ask when she would be available and when Andy held up 10 fingers, father added another finger, so after another stroll, we returned at 11 am. The dentist suggested stronger antibiotics and really did not want to take the tooth out, as Andy asked. She gave us her phone number and we could call back after a bit more travelling if required. By the afternoon, Andy was beginning to think it felt a little bit better.

After lunch on the quay we drove south a mere 33 miles, where we found a charming site right beside the sea along a very dramatic and largely unspoilt coast line. I looked through bougainvilleas down to the sea just below, with little rocky beaches where we had a swim before our meal. It had been very hot indeed for the last two days but a little cooler here. Our neighbours were Dutch motorhomers, who also had a Rapido. I admired the quilt the lady was making, and then she brought a most spectacular one out of the van, which made the one I had to show seem rather meagre

The showers in Greek campsites are the hottest we have ever had. Sometimes you cannot battle through scalding water to turn it down - and so much water too! Also lovely clean facilities, even when old. We knew we were going to have a problem and be unable to refill the gas bottles we use for cooking, fridge and water heating when not on hook-up. Very little LPG in Greece. Today I bought and used a tiny electric ring and managed to cook a full meal on it, so am sure we will now last easily, even with a lot of wild camping or 'overnight parking', which is so much easier than expected.

Friday 17 September 2010. We continued to drive down the dramatic coast line, which reminded us of the Turkish coast, until we turned inland at Leonidio, where we stopped for a wander and some shopping. We then took the mountain road inland, which proved to have a very good surface and was plenty wide enough until it came to little towns, when it wound its way through the streets. The road began with a drive through a gorge with steep cliffs, then climbed steadily up into the mountains with spectacular views.

We stopped at the Eloni Monastery, which is built into and under a cliff.  It put me in mind of Tibetan monasteries, clinging as it did to the mountain side and festooned with flags.

We then drove on through dramatic scenery to the village of Kosmas, 4000 ft above sea level, where the road just deposited you into the town square with no obvious means of escape. Luckily we knew we wanted to park and spend the night in the space under the town square. I spent a happy session sketching once more but was interrupted because I had to go back for a cardigan, as it was getting so chilly! We would have to find more covers for the night - and should sleep better if the church clock did not continue to chime.

Graffiti is everywhere – but sometimes it surprises me: 'Free Tibet' on the side of the school in Nafplio, and today on a tumble down building in Leonidio: 'Kosavo is Serbian'.

Saturday 18 September 2010. The clock in the church stopped at a very reasonable hour and only restarted at 8 am. We continued the drive out of the mountain. It is noticeable that there are no remote farmhouses; everyone seems to live in one of the isolated towns. Also noticeable were the large numbers of Great Mullions, a plant which I am fond of, that seems to crop up in isolated pockets all over Europe, notable for its great size.

We reached the abandoned Byzantine town near Geraki, situated most spectacularly on a hill top. Unfortunately the churches were not open but it was easy to imagine the town's ruins to be inhabited.

We drove on and reached Monemvasia by lunch time and after a rest went to see it. The town has been likened to the rock of Gibraltar, set out in the sea. In reality you cannot see the town until you have walked the causeway and half way round the rock beside the sea. Then there is a narrow opening, the only access to the town, and you are in an amazing jumble of streets and alleyways. It is this tiny access that has saved it from development.  I've been in lots of island towns but this one was definitely the best. The town was also Byzantine, the local capital, later taken by the Venetians and the Turks. It has always been inhabited and about 70% is currently lived in, with many other buildings being work in progress, all being reconstructed in a most stylish way. It is a most atmospheric, romantic place.

In one of the alleyways we glimpsed a bride getting ready and learnt that the wedding was due at 6 pm, so we waited outside the church. So many guests, there must have been 200+, waited for the bride, who walked to church with her friends. She was greeted by applause and a bouquet from her husband to be, which we thought was nice. Everyone followed her into church - well most people did, some just waited outside - and all the while there was a great coming and going. When I looked into church after another wander they had got to the bit where there are wedding crowns held over the heads of the bride and groom, while they circle with the priest. Lots of people were throwing rice at random and then most of the people seemed to leave the church, so that only about 1/3 were left inside at most. Outside everyone was gossiping in the square and lots were having coffees. Then they proceeded to leave, going back to their cars outside the walls. I hope someone was there to see the bride and groom come out! I must find someone to explain a Greek wedding to me - does anyone have a Greek cousin?

Sunday 19 September 2010. We decided to climb to the top of the rock to visit the fortifications above the town. We set off early to avoid the heat as Andy had read that the forecast was for 37 degrees for the Peloponnese today!!!! Once we had reached the fortifications above the town, we understood that it was just the lower town, once occupied by artisans, that survives today. There was once an equally large upper town, now ruined except for the church, named after the Hagia (Saint) Sophia. It is very interesting, as 13th century wall paintings survive, and the Turks had built a mihrab into the wall, so adapting the building for use during their occupation of the town.

There was still a good climb amongst extensive ruins to get to the citadel, which stood on the landward side on the rock, the shape being identical with Gibraltar.

On the way down we saw the catchment for rainwater and the cistern for storing it - water is still an issue on the island. It was amazing then that the Turks built several bath houses or hammams in the town.

We then wandered through the lower town once more and I sketched while having a coffee. Looking at the town more closely, I noticed several ovens which were placed outside the front door. Going inside some work-in-progress, there were inner rooms in the rock, or under houses above, which were dark but deliciously cool.

We caught the shuttle back to the mainland and chilled during the heat of the day, with the intention of a swim then stroll into town when it got a lot cooler - though I don't think it has reached 37 degrees and there is a slight breeze. We are fine in the van with our fan running - thanks to our solar panel.

Sunday 19 September 2010. Monemvasia. After a busy day we had a lovely swim in the sea beside the van, water crystal clear and quite warm. We then walked back along the causeway early evening. After a short stroll around the town we settled for a restaurant with a lovely veranda overlooking more of the town. It really was magic, sitting with such a view while the sun went down and the bright moon made a path right to the town below. We were offered fish – snapper - but at 30 Euros each it was rather too much. After a stroll round the darkened streets, which were remarkably well lit, we walked back across the causeway.

Monday 20 September 2010. We reluctantly left Monemvasia, where the sunrise made the rock look most dramatic. We then made our way south over the mountains: most impressive scenery  and very reasonable roads with very little traffic. We briefly visited Napoli, which the guide book said was nothing other than a coastal strip and they were right! We then went north following the coast, past a shipwrecked coaster washed up on a beach towards the town of Gythio, which looked very pleasant apart from the mounds of rubbish. We later understood there was a dustmen's strike, our first indications of anything amiss in Greece at all.

We soon found the campsite along the coast, one of several and chosen because it did not have any of the gloomy sheds or structures covered with coconut matting for shade. This campsite is set within an olive grove, with orange and lemon trees as well. We used the washing machine straight away and as soon as the washing was on the line it dried in no time – poly-cotton sheets within the hour!!!

Tuesday 21 September 2010. Lazy day on site around the van, catching up with chores and doing a few hobbies. I tried a swim but there was too much of a swell for me to be happy, though Andy enjoyed it. The sand was very gritty. A wander along the sand in the evening proved we had chosen the right site - the others were very busy and brash.

Wednesday 22 September 2010. Overcast day with a stiff breeze at times, just the sort of weather we have seen in the Med around previous Equinoxes. Firstly we visited Gythio, ignoring the rubbish, which seemed worse. It was a very pleasant little town but the shops were very poor indeed. This was the place where Helen of Troy and Paris spent their first night before sailing to Turkey.

We then drove south along the eastern side of the peninsula, into an area known as the Mani. We had lunch on the quay at Kokkala before driving on a surprisingly good road, which only deteriorated in the villages when it became very narrow and winding indeed. We have been impressed with the general good quality of the roads throughout the Peloponnese.  

The Mani was known as being very poor and cut off from the rest of the Peloponnese and was brought to people's attention by a book by Patrick Leigh Fermor, he of 'A Time of Gifts'- a travel journal of a journey across Europe before WW2 - who still lives in the area. The scenery is spectacular but very rugged and everywhere there were elaborate terraces in a desperate attempt to make a living. The feature however that really marks out the area are the towers, mini-castles up to 5 storeys high (one for each family) and often many in one village. The families defended what little fertile land they had obtained and feuds could last for decades. Battles took place over alleyways, and guns and cannons were used well into the 19th century! We stopped in several small villages and wandered around the alleyways, looking up at the towers.

We drove on till we reached the very tip of Greece, Cape Tenaro, and made the half hour walk out to the light house. It did threaten rain and there were a few drops but fortunately it did not come to anything. It is sometimes claimed that this is the most southerly tip of mainland Europe but that is claimed by Tarifa in Spain - a spot we really love, and usually a lot windier than here. Also nearby were the remains of a temple to Poseidon and an Oracle of the Dead. Also an entrance to Hades was hereabouts but we didn't see it.

Andy's last antibiotic today. They do at last seem to have done the trick, thank goodness.

Thursday 23 September 2010. We woke to a red dawn over the sea but clouds overhead. We were surrounded by hunters with their dogs and guns, who made off onto the hillside opposite and made a considerable noise. We understood that they were hunting quail, which were once exported in large numbers – 7,000 a month - from Gerolimenas where we ended the day.

We drove on to the tiny port of Porto Kagio, where the good access road led to a settlement whose access was along the narrow beach. W e parked and wandered for a while, up to a chapel on the cliffs above that again reminded me of 'Mamma Mia'.

We drove on to Vathia and parked above the little village that is famous for its collection of defensive towers. It is set on a buff, with commanding views of the surrounding countryside and sea. Our guide book says that in the 19th century there was a war that cost 100 lives and lasted for 40 years - hard to believe when walking round such a small community along such narrow alleyways. It really was so photogenic and Andy took hundreds of pictures. (Don't worry - they are not all on the photo site!) We also walked up the opposite hill to the cemetery for a view over the village and also to see the graves, which were mostly like little concrete houses. Inside were small shrines to the departed, photos, carpet and lace table cloths. The ground would have been impossible to dig.

We drove on to Gerolimenas ,where there was a comprehensive rally of old cars taking place. We saw Vintage Rolls Royces, a Morris Minor and a Morris Oxford, to name but a few. There was considerable chaos as they left, especially as a couple of coaches tried to leave at the same time. The little town seemed very peaceful afterwards. I went out to sketch in the afternoon and after a while was joined by a  gentleman wanting to see what I was doing. He called his friends and by the time I finished I had about 8 people of all ages watching me, at times standing in front and generally commenting - in Greek. The only words I got were artist and English.  One girl told me she was Albanian and asked about my family.

We wandered into the town for a meal in the evening and came back to our perfect overnight spot, tucked in just up the road from the village, beside where the shop keeper kept his pig in a ruined building. The pig had fresh figs for breakfast!!

Friday 24 September 2010. We had intended taking a perilous local footpath up the cliff face overlooking the village, but in the morning were surrounded by the sound of gunshots once more. As we did not want to emerge onto a battle field at the top of the cliff (we would have) we decided to walk up the road and wander around the villages that way. The views were spectacular in every direction. The hunters were hard at work over the countryside with intelligent-looking dogs (till it came to walking along a road, when they did not seem to understand the dangers of cars).

We then drove on through villages full of towers till we got to Areopoli, where we stopped to have a wander around the old town and a short stop at a lovely internet café, playing very sad but atmospheric Greek music. While Andy used the computer, I drew a picture and this was much commented on by the owner, who was expansive - in Greek. We ended up for the night beside the sea once more, at Neo Itilo, in a very international line up. We had travelled all of 20 miles again today.

It had been looking very threatening for some time, then started to rain about 9 pm and rained heavily for quite a bit of the night.

Saturday 25 September 2010. We woke to very grey leaden skies though it had stopped raining. We were very tempted by a nearby fish taverna that looked lovely and had camping alongside but really needed to empty and refill, so drove on along a lovely coast road  to Camping Kalogria at Stoupa, a resort which we might not have visited had the site at Kardamyli not been redeveloped into a hotel. There are surprisingly few campsites here, which explains in a large part the amount of wild camping.

We bought a broom in a supermarket, which I am very pleased with, as it gets very dusty and gritty - we take out the carpets when visiting Mediterranean countries - but housework still has to be done, even whilst on holiday!!

We wandered into Stoupa looking for an internet connection and lunch, leaving dinner in the slow cooker on a timer switch - very organised! We saw one café offering the internet but decided to walk further on to find a better place to eat. Passing several hopefuls we wandered on with the sky growing vey black and suddenly it started raining really heavily, so we scurried back. The café was putting down blinds to protect from the driving rain, which rapidly became a torrent down the roadway, seeping into the café in rivulets which the waiters had to cross to serve the customers. We ordered a pork 'gyros pitta', which I had taken to being a light lunch, but when it arrived it was a full blown meal. ( We later had to rush back to turn off the slow cooker!)

The rain had stopped after a slow meal and when the sun came out it became quite warm again. The internet café wasn't but we found a connection in the taverna mentioned in both the Lonely Planet and Bradt guides and were both much taken with the place overlooking the bay.

Stoupa is a very pleasant little resort, low rise and not overtly brash. However I should have realised the situation: as we walked into town a woman rushed round the corner and said in a very Welsh accent 'It's a dreadful day to hang out your washing'. There were many English tourists, especially Beryl Reed ladies who were clad in shorts they only bring out when 'abroad'.

We had intended wandering back into town during the evening but about 8 pm it began to rain agai  and this developed into the grandmother of thunderstorms which went on for much of the night. The thunder shook the ground and the rain was so heavy it looked as if someone was playing a hose on the window.

Sunday 26 September 2010. We went to the beach early but the sea was still turbulent after yesterday's storm, so only Andy swam. We had a pleasant wander around the town, which seemed quieter than the day before, with many visible signs of the storm last night. It must be a spring tide, as the water reached right up the beach, leaving little space to sit. In one place last night's rain had created a new sandbar as it swept out to sea - that had not been there the day before.

We had lunch at the internet restaurant, which apparently has been in the same family for several generations. The way they served the coffee made me wonder if they had been Greeks expelled from Turkey in the 1920's. It was interesting that when the English left after their meal at about 2.30 pm the Greeks started to arrive. We then sat on the quay sketching. I had become invisible once more, as the English scurry past someone making an exhibition of themselves drawing in public. This picture was very far from a success - seem to be going backwards!

We called into the supermarket on the way home. What looked like a rather tacky souvenir shop was a deceiving front for the most amazing shop, with every conceivable item on display, all packed in.

Monday 27 September 2010. We were up in good time as Andy fancied an early swim. It was 7.45 am and we were surprised to find ourselves locked in - till we found the pedestrian gate. It was still quite fresh and I needed a little cardigan, Andy was the only swimmer and after a shower back at the site we had breakfast in our favourite tavern. They certainly keep long hours - 9 in the morning till goodness knows when.

By the time we walked back along the promenade at 11am the Beryl Reed ladies were out in force on the beach.

The owner seemed offended we were leaving, asking what was wrong.

We headed for the mountains, along generally quite good roads, till we were high above the coast. We reached Kastania, where we were 500 metres above sea level. Here was a small Greek village with several ancient Byzantine churches and a five- storey Dourakis tower, which dominated the neat village square. It made us realise it isn't only touristy places that have tiny alleyways and steep tracks as access to home. We saw several churches, including Agios Petros at the top of the village: almost 1000 years old, full of frescoes and carved stone. As promised by the guide book, the key was in a niche by the door - most satisfying. The church was being propped up; the next one, Agios Nikolaos, was being externally repaired and surrounded by workmen and buckets etc. This was a shame as the paintings of the beasts of the earth promised to be most entertaining, including a 2-tailed mermaid!

The next village, Siadona, had been burnt  by the Italians for sheltering the Allies in 1942. Beyond that the road became most dramatic, though with a good surface. We stopped by the Kitrinaris Tower, stuck on a spur and once home to feared local bandits. While I climbed up to the abandoned monastery of Vaidenista, set beside a stream with a tiny meadow where local villagers hold celebrations, Andy was busy being stung by a wasp, which made his foot very painful. We had our lunch in the mountains before coming down to Kardamyli, much praised in the guide book and where we had intended to stop, at least for a look around and if possible the night. However we could find nowhere to park, unusual for Greek villages, and after getting ourselves in a pickle down one road we drove on, then headed for the coast.

After another twisty road we found the coast road and stopped before Akrogiali, our door opening onto the small promenade overlooking the sea. We could see the isthmus we have come from and the one we intend to travel! We spent the evening listening to the Greek radio station we had heard in the taverna, sort of radio 2 with lots of Abba-type songs, in Greek and English as well as local stuff.

Tuesday 28 September 2010. Andy was up promptly and had a swim before breakfast. It is so useful have a moveable beach hut. We then drove along the coast and soon realised we had chosen the best spot, as there was nowhere else. Despite little resorts, the promised site did not materialise.

We drove through Kalamata, a large confusing city, and eventually reached a spectacular road over the mountain , over the Langada Pass. In places the scenery looked much like Switzerland with oak trees and spectacular hair pin bends. Elsewhere we felt as if we were on a huge Scalextric set with the road snaking below us. In other places there were signs of a vast forest fire. It was a shame the weather was not better, being grey with rain at times. The road ended with a gorge, believed to be where the Spartans left any baby who did not make the grade.

We wandered around Sparta, a modern city with wide boulevards and modern shops. This time we managed to try Greek fast food and enjoyed pitta gyros - chicken and salad in a pitta cone. Bobby wanted a helmet but all we managed to buy was a really good mat for outside the door of the van.

We then sought out the camp site, as the weather deteriorated still further. We were not immediately taken with Castle View Camping. The second site – Camping Mistras Paleologica - also was not special for the price. We did not fancy just passing the afternoon so decided to drive to Tripoli, to find the only promised autogas station in the Peloponnese. We had been very careful with gas as we were not sure if this place existed. The road to Tripoli was not special and although across mountains rather boring. We found the gas station, a new building, and on filling up proved how little we had used - we would have been fine for longer than 2 months!! A gypsy family were also filling a canister and a little girl got out of the van and proceeded to beg outside the window, on this private forecourt!!!

We drove back on the same road, a little better now the rain had stopped but the whole thing had a bad feeling, covered with rubbish, the first time I had felt uneasy since arriving in Greece. So we made our way back to Castle View Camping , which did not seem as bad when we were not paying 4 Euros for electricity, ready for a day at Mystras tomorrow. The castle and town are visible from the site, most dramatic. Scary moment during the evening was when the biggest wasp you ever did see flew into the van!!

Wednesday 29 September 2010. We were up in good time and drove the mile or so to the car park below Mystras.

Sparta had become an insignificant village by the early Middle Ages. A Frankish knight built a castle on a rocky outcrop, it was taken by the Byzantines and by 1348 it was made the seat of the Despot (meaning ruler) of Morea, and the most influential town in the Peloponnese (Morea). Eventually the son of the Emperor became ruler, making it de facto the second city of the Byzantine empire. It continued to thrive during Turkish occupation and there was resurgence under Venetian rule, when it had a population of 40,000: 3 times that of present day Sparta.

The site follows the same pattern as Monemvasia, with a castle right at the top, an upper city which housed the administration and a lower city, where most people lived and worked. Imagine a slim right-angled triangle, smallest side as base, the vertical side cliff faces, the castle on the point and the city clinging to the slopes below! The large palace complex has been under reconstruction for 15 years. As far as we could see it was a wholesale rebuild, but impressive in scale. It sounds as if it will be years before it is opened.

The site is also noted for its churches, with many frescoes and carvings. The Pantanassa is still a working convent and the church contains some very vivid frescoes, including the Virgin above the altar, and Christ raising Lazarus, while the people hold their noses because of the smell! One of the nuns was selling elaborately embroidered table clothes and when I admired the pulled thread work she became very modest. We saw a donkey tethered below the nunnery, for collecting supplies I expect.

In all the churches it was possible to make out the familiar bible stories, especially Christ riding into Jerusalem with lovely 2 dimensional walls. The Metropolis contained a 2-headed eagle emblem set in the floor where the last Emperor Constantine X1 was crowned. He died not long afterwards fighting on the walls of Constantinople. In another church, the Hodegertria, was the tomb of Emperor Theodore, who abdicated so that he could come back to Mystra as a monk.

It was really interesting to compare the churches with those we had seen in Cappadocia in Turkey, and especially the painted monasteries in Northern Romania, which were of a similar age. There a variety of background colours was used depending on the monastery, while in Mystras the background was always blue.

We climbed right up to the top of the castle: not quite as hard as it looked as the weather was slightly overcast and there was a slight breeze.

The whole site had an atmospheric air, as if very populated with very benevolent ghosts!

We spent over 5 hours exploring and climbing and got back just as it started to rain! We went back to Castle Camping for a rest. It continued to rain on and off for the rest of the evening.

Thursday 30 September 2010. A poor night - we think it was the Sainsbury's sweet and sour sauce!! However we woke to brilliant sunshine and a good day of weather, our first reliable day since the equinox.

We drove back over the Langada Pass, first the gorge, then the alpine pass at about 5,000 ft, and then through a deep river valley. We had coffee at the top of the pass and travelled down most of the hairpin bends before discovering we had left the china cupboard open above the glass cooker lid! The pass was most spectacular and this time in sunshine.

After driving through Kalamata, shopping at a Carrefour supermarket, and passing two lollipop ladies (our STOP signs are much bigger than theirs!) we stopped at the small town of Petalidi. They have a grand new promenade which sweeps right out beyond a harbour for small fishing boats and we parked at the far end, with a magnificent view that stretched right round the bay, past Kalamata, to the mountains which we climbed over down towards the Mani peninsula! The only trouble was the strong wind, which only died down at dusk.

We were most amused by the female in another van, who changed bikinis after a swim. I met her not too long afterwards in white blouse, very pink skirt, very high heels, very brown, blond hair and enormous sunglasses, going for a walk. I have never seen anyone who looked more like Barbie! Shortly afterwards she was back in the original bikini, then drove off in white trousers - all in the space of 4 hours.

Friday 1 October 2010. We woke to another lovely morning, though it was chilly till the sun got going and I needed a fleece to eat my breakfast on the bench. However by the time we set off for town it was lovely and warm once again. We did not expect the market spread along the sea front: lots of awful clothes but a very good fruit and vegetable market and I was cross I'd stocked up at Carrefour. We wandered round the town square and stopped for fresh orange juice for Andy and lemon for me (I know I'm not supposed to have it but it is delicious.) We stopped at the fish stalls but there was very little for sale, and what there was were so tiny. We knew that the Med was largely fished out and judging by the number of active fishing boats in every little harbour I'm not surprised. Something is always going on - 'Somebody always setting out, someone coming home'.

We had a swim and lunch before driving all of 8 miles down the road to another little harbour at Agios Andreas, still with the lovely backdrop of the mountains across the bay.

I spent the afternoon sketching and reading while Andy found somewhere with internet. The Greeks usually sound as if they are arguing violently when they chat though I don't usually think they are. However the Austrians in the van behind us definitely were having a very lively argument, even if I could not understand what they were saying! We were surprised at the number of cars with Bulgarian number plates and their Romany-looking occupants on the quay.

I really like this pace of life!

Saturday 2 October 2010. Another lovely day. A little chilly in the morning and evening but during the day it is lovely and warm with a hint of freshness - perfect. There was a lot of activity in the little harbour of Agios Andreas this morning. As I sat eating my breakfast I could see at least 6 fishing boats within sight; when I took my last stroll before moving on at about 11 am most of them had come in. No wonder there are few fish left, if this was being repeated in so many villages all round the Med. That being said, one of the fishermen had a flat orange-box full of fish, some of them bigger ones. A digger was busy piling up huge stones in front of one of the houses that was not far away from the water's edge, getting ready for winter storms ahead.

We moved down to the Venetian town of Koroni, all of 5 miles, to Camping Koroni for emptying, filling and a washing machine! The washing dried whilst we had our lunch and a rest with cup of tea, so I was able to bring it in before going out to explore the town

The town was started by the building of a castle by a Frankish knight, then taken by the Venetians who used it as a principal port on the way to the Crusader lands in the Middle East. It was then taken by the Turks, Venetians and Turks again before the War of Independence. The town is full of pleasant architecture and white painted houses. There is a large castle overlooking the town, which we climbed up to. I'll go into the nunnery and church tomorrow when I am correctly attired. We had a delicious ice cream, though I nearly lost mine and became covered with chocolate sorbet - well worth saving as it was delicious.

I then had to buy another copy of our map, as ours is almost worn out with constant re- folding. I'll transfer our route and places where we stayed.

Back to the campsite - a mixed blessing. We can spread out our things at a site and leave them out, leave our windows open and do our washing. But we are the only people on site and it is rather lonely and very boring, whereas when wild-camping we are often on the quay with constant and interesting activity and in the centre of things, easy to go out for a short stroll.

Here we are at least 15 minutes from the town, up a hill, and at this site there's no view. The last 2 nights wild-camping we have had a view to die for! However wild-camping is not an option here at Koroni, as hoped, since the harbour is being improved and is full of diggers and blocks of concrete!

Sunday 3 October 2010. The day dawned sunny though it soon clouded over and we took our brollies. We wandered around the streets of Koroni, then once again up to the castle and this time into the nunnery. We were amazed at the luscious and spacious garden that the nuns had cultivated - full of orange and lemon trees, flowering bushes, overflowing tubs and lots of herbs - all set around gleaming white buildings, some of them set into the castle walls. It was a most atmospheric place.

We came down to seek lunch but the chicken pitta did not materialise, as he did not do them Sunday lunch time, so we ended up with a pizza instead - nicer than those we had had in Italy. After another stroll and stock up once more at a vegetable stall that had arrived, Andy wandered back for a cup of tea while I made my way back up to the nunnery, where I had a very happy afternoon painting. The nuns looked over my shoulder occasionally and made pleasing comments I could not understand. It was really, really lovely- sitting in such a wonderful atmosphere, surrounded by such a lovely garden. When I come back in another life I think I want to be a Greek nun. They always seem so content, relaxed and often so jovial -rather far from my experience of English nuns. I wandered back through the town and could see that the opposite coast line across the bay was having heavy rain and in one place a big storm. Luckily it did not reach us and we could eat our Thai vegetable curry, cooked in the slow cooker - a real boon - outside the van as usual. And we were not alone, as another van had arrived.

Monday 4 October 2010. Bright start though it soon clouded over. Weather much cooler than when we arrived in the Peloponnese. We need jumpers in the evenings and daytime temperatures, while just nice for us, are a lot cooler, probably about 25º C.

We went down into Koroni for a shop up and last visit to the nunnery to take pictures in bright sunshine, really lovely once more. One of the older nuns sat in the doorway singing to herself as she crocheted. The town was really bustling and had a great atmosphere. We watched a baker taking the loaves out of an old fashioned bread oven on a paddle and then bought one – really hot. We found a fish shop and bought sea bass for tea, and a whole string of hardware shops where we found a more convenient smaller broom. No doubt about there being a large ex-pat community, looking at the supermarket shelves.

We then drove another 5 miles over a headland, to see wide views of an indented coast line and several islands off-shore. We drove through Finikounda and onto camping Thines, a very well appointed site, though the pitches were rather small with difficult access from overhanging trees. We were also not helped by a German, who was trying to help and shepherded Andy hither and thither before we had really decided where we were going.

After lunch we wandered into Finikounda, a little fishing village that had become a small resort but is now very quiet and out of season. The site itself is surprisingly busy and I do not doubt that many of the German and Austrian residents are here for the winter. I don't think it would suit us, as we get restless after a few days and, although I do love to roam, I also like to be at home with family, friends and lots of toys!

Tuesday 5 October 2010. We spent the day in and around the site. I checked a couple of neighbouring sites and think we are on the right one for us. Because it is relatively new the tree cover is not so intense - not so good for August but fine now the sun is not so strong and the days shorter. The Anemomelos campsite was stuffed full of windsurfers and frenetic activity, tents and small surfers' vans. The rest of the day was spent sewing, painting and knitting, with a lovely view of sun and sand and off-shore islands.

Wednesday 6 October 2010. We made our way the 7 miles over the hill to Methoni, with a wonderful view once more of islands and interesting coast. The town was pleasant and full of bustle, with a variety of shops as well as the usual cafes. We parked on the shore with a great view of Methoni's enormous and so impressive castle. The castle had the usual Venetian/ Ottoman/ Venetian/ Ottoman ownership, which is reflected in the architecture. The town used to be known, along with Koroni, as the Eyes of Venice and pilgrims used to stay at Methoni on their way to the Holy Land. The town used to be inside the walls but was demolished in 1827 by the French, who came to help during the war of independence and established a new town outside the walls. The population used to be much larger in the original town and the area inside the walls is vast. On the seaward side there is the charming Bourzoi tower perched on a rocky islet, approached by a causeway and most photogenic.

Once back in the van we were told by several people that the municipal campsite was officially closed but the gate was open, with the taverna flourishing, and everyone was camping there with free electricity and showers. So we moved in! Even the site lights came on - all for free. There were more people here than on some paying sites we had been on!

We attempted to go for a swim but it was shallow for so far out that we just played in the water.

Thursday 7 October 2010. A relaxing day, wandering round Methoni. I spent much of the morning gazing at the Bourzoi tower and much of the afternoon in a heavenly spot under the walls by a little quay, looking at boats in dazzling colours on such bright sea. I sat in the shade sketching - another wonderful place to be. An archaeological tour came along for a while and I thought how lucky I was to be able to spend as much time as I wanted looking and revisiting things, and sitting and loving them, with very little sense of urgency.

I then wandered up the coast following a track to a headland and looked back and down onto the town. The coast reminded me so much of the Cote De Morte in the extreme north of Spain. There was some very dramatic sky and clouds that did not come to anything. We spent the evening chatting to other Brits in the site taverna, which we felt obliged to patronise as the site was free. They all had enormous vans, one with a spin drier in his garage! Another couple with a huge van were thinking of getting an even bigger one, but they did acknowledge the difficulty of visiting tiny coves.

Friday 8 October 2010. Heavy rain in the night but fortunately it had stopped by day break. After swapping tips with fellow motorhomers, we took the van along the promenade to the beach beside the town. I wandered back to the castle for one last sketch, while Andy caught up on emails and did some shopping. As I came back I noticed amidst lots of commotion a herd of goats on the jetty and assumed they had arrived on the boat from the island off-shore. They were eventually driven along the beach in front of us. I was then told only a little while before they had been seen being loaded onto the boat, so I have no idea what was going on.

After lunch we drove the 8 miles north to Pylos, where we parked on the quayside of a considerable harbour. After some spits and spots of rain we explored the town, which was largely developed by the French and centres round a tree-lined square. Pylos sits on the edge of Navaroni Bay, sheltered from the Med by a chain of islands which almost cut it off. The Bay was the site of a battle that largely ended the war of Greek Independence, when an allied fleet from Britain, France and Russia came to warn the Ottomans, who were laying waste to the Peloponnese. When the hint was not taken, the allies entered the bay, shots were fired and so ensued almost accidentally the last battle under sail, with very little damage to the allies who were successful in lifting the attack. Commemorations and squares still remember the 'Three Admirals'.

The town is most pleasant. I wandered up north to look at an impressive Ottoman aqueduct on the way into town. As I wandered back to the port the rain began, this time in earnest and continued for most of the evening. Apparently England is having a mini heat wave, while Patras is forecast 16 degrees tomorrow - I think we have swapped weather!

Saturday 9 October 2010. A wet and grey English sort of day. We waited for a break in the rain and went into town to do some shopping. I took the dictionary with me and in the butcher's they said 'ah, bacon: supermarket', and in the excellent greengrocer's said 'Ah, spinach' and showed me the stuff I thought it was, though did not have the courage of my convictions.

We settled in for a wet afternoon on the quay when a policeman pulled alongside and said 'No camping, no parking'. We decided to go back to Methoni, as it did not seem worth paying for an expensive site in such weather. As we were moving the van we drove up to see Gialova Lagoon, a nature reserve that is home to so many birds and a noted stop-over for migrating birds. However, we were not seeing it in the best of weather.

Then we drove back through Pylos and on to Methoni, where we attempted to return to our previous spot in the camp site and immediately got stuck in mud!!! We were soon joined by lots of very helpful people, who first attempted to push, but eventually we got out using our old jack, the one we used to use to get the caravan into her parking place, so long ago! So we parked on one of the camp site roads for the night!

Sunday 10 October 2010. We woke to a better morning and, after clearing off the mud from yesterday's mishap and looking embarrassingly at the mess we made, we drove along the promenade to send emails whilst I went to get the bread. There were so many older gentlemen as usual, putting the world to rights in all the cafes.

We then drove on, past Pylos, to have another look at the nature reserve and Voidokilla Beach, which is a golden crescent of sand, totally unspoilt, and on lots of picture post cards of Greece. We were surprised how low key the whole area was and how narrow the approach road, bearing in mind the popularity of the beach.

We walked around the beach on the water line, then climbed a little up the opposite hillside under a castle to get an overall view. The beach backs on to the lagoon and nature reserve; the whole area was lovely. We were very surprised indeed to see a car one third of the way around the beach, totally and utterly stuck, being pulled out by a tractor - how he got there I cannot imagine.

Just before having lunch Andy spied a kingfisher on a twig just beside us, and it continued to visit this branch for the next couple of hours! Andy had never seen a kingfisher before he came to Greece and now he has seen 3! We have only seen that number of donkeys!

We then drove to the seaside village of Marathopoli, where once again we parked on the harbour side. I wandered through the town which had a sort of end of the world feel to it and returned to the van in time for more rain. At least it was warmer than the day before. We were then treated to the most dramatic skies, deepest grey, bright sunshine, rainbows, all around, over the sea and nearby island as well as the mountains in the far distance. After dinner Andy spotted a 'ferret' type animal running across the quay.

I have decided that the small fishing boats are the Greek equivalent of the Englishman's potting shed.

Monday 11 October 2010. The sun shone as we woke up after a very peaceful night on the quay. The sea was much quieter too. A lady turned up to look after the little shrine beside the quayside; there are so many of them around and so many look abandoned. (When I visited the aqueduct, one end led into a graveyard where I was surprised to see the number of people tending graves - marble boxes on the surface here - and especially lighting lamps. One lady had a very elaborate grave to attend to, which may well have been for husband and son aged 43, judging from photos and writing.) We wandered around the town to get supplies then headed inland to see Greece away from the coastal tourist strip.

The drive was most scenic but at times a little hairy, as in places the road deteriorated to Bulgarian standards and in Hora the road was closed with no visible diversion: a surprise, as up to now the roads had been reliably good.

Our destination was the archaeological site at Ancient Messene (Ithomi). We took a route that went past the Voulkanou monastery with wonderful views over the nearby valley and mountains. Messene was built around 370 BC and eventually abandoned in late Byzantine times. The site, which at present has no charge, is large and impressive, a whole large city gradually being uncovered. The most impressive features were a square around the Sanctuary of Asklepius, and especially the stadium, surrounded by a very spacious colonnade. We had never seen a stadium with so many seats intact and whole areas preserved; usually it is the theatre that is the item that has all the attention. The Greeks used the area for gymnastics, whilst the Romans blocked off one end and used it for gladiator fights.

Down the end of the stadium was a mausoleum that was being restored - we watched as a crane gently put the lintel in place over the doorway. What is restoring and what is rebuilding?? We have thought about that before, as we watched painters touching up frescoes by Giotto. Some way along the road there was the Arcadian gate. It was amazing how far this city must have stretched, and just how much there is to find.

We had hoped to overnight at Messene but, along with the new car park had come a notice, so we made our way back up the mountain to the monastery and spent the night there. I tried to visit the monastery but could not understand the notice - did it say 'open between 2 and 5' or as I suspected 'closed'. Very quiet indeed, apart from the pack of dogs that had arrived to be fed by a bearded monk, barking at the passing cars (less than one an hour) and everything else!

Tuesday 12 October 2010. The dogs eventually stopped their barking and unearthly howling but then we were treated to a very loud couple of cats' choruses, and an owl in the tree above us. The dogs were not awake when we woke and they eventually trotted off together peaceably to a car they appear to have been waiting for, down the hill, presumably for breakfast. We then visited the monastery, which was so similar to those we had visited in Romania many times - the church in the middle, closely enclosed by the exterior walls, most of whose windows faced inwards, which housed the monks.

We took a very scenic route through the mountains around Karitena and then drove up to the hill above the town, spectacularly situated on a saddle, with a castle on the top that looked as if it had just grown out of the mountain. The town was pleasant but mostly closed houses and it lacked any amenities, which was surprising for its size. We then drove on through more great scenery to Stemnitsa, another town high in the hills. This town had more of a centre and was full of old houses. I walked up to the pinnacle of rock that looked over the town and also deep into the Lousios George.

We drove 80 miles today, far further than recently. We overnighted in the car park of the water museum at Dimitsana, underneath two enormous spreading sycamore trees. Unfortunately the museum was closed for the fortnight! It looked excellent and we must come back to visit it. Next to the car park was a lovely little church, all of its furniture highly decorated with gold and two-headed eagles. I wandered up the lane and found another parking spot by another church on a small outcrop. The road was surrounded by wild flowers now at the seed stage; it must look spectacular in spring. There was also a tree with tiny holly type leaves, which surprisingly had acorns! The workmen wished us goodnight as they left at 8 pm.

Wednesday 13 October 2010. The workmen arrived once more at 8 am and we left at about 9.30. Firstly we drove up to Dimitsana; it was a shame it kept trying to rain as it curtailed our exploring. At one point a lady came out of her house to show us the way, as we had reached a cul-de-sac, and insisted on guiding us. We watched the Chilean miners being rescued on a television in the tiny local supermarket.

I then worked out that a Greek word beginning with 'Bib' probably meant library and with persistence was able to find it. I had to ask in the town library, full of books behind glass doors but lots of computer screens, to open up the historical section next door and then I was able to see a little of their amazing collection – lots of handwritten books pre-1500, including a geometry book, and the first printed books in Greek - some in both Latin and Greek - dated 1530's. Also a collection of items to do with the Greek War of Independence, whose heroes came from this region.

We then attempted to visit the monastery of Philosophou. We could not see any brown tourist signs and as we followed the road down into the gorge we began to understand why - a well made up road but only single track for over 3 miles and with a precipice on one side for much of the way!!!! We did stop at the bottom to explore the monastery, where we were greeted by a really charming monk with excellent English but more unfortunately a cleft pallet so he was extremely difficult to understand. The church was impressive with well preserved frescoes from 1690's. We then made our way down into the gorge to the old monastery which was built right into the cliff and had a very narrow interior. We had to squeeze ourselves between the wall and the rock in some places. How they lived up there I cannot imagine.

We had to make our way back up the scary road to the 'main' road, where very gradually we wended our way east, through magnificent scenery largely obscured by cloud, to Olympia and Camping Diana, where we were the only occupants. We also had internet access - the first for several days - and as it reached the van I was able to use it too. My computer is old and unable to be used without being plugged in.

Thursday 14 October 2010. Anniversary of Battle of Hastings! Overnight there were several considerable thunderstorms. Today we planned to visit Olympia - home of the Olympic Games. The original games lasted for 1000 years uninterrupted, making the modern run of 100 years with 2 interruptions look rather feeble. The games officially started in 776 BC: for the Greeks that was the start of history, anything before then regarded as myth.

What we had not realised is that the site was primarily a religious one, dedicated to Zeus. There was a temple here that housed one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World - an enormous statue of Zeus that stood 12 metres high, decorated with ivory as skin and lots of gold. (I bet everyone else knew about it!) It was eventually taken to Constantinople and was lost in the fire of 475 AD.

At its height the games would have attracted people from all over the Med, come to hear music and poetry. Heroditus the historian orated his work here. So it was a bit like Glastonbury and a Welsh Eisteddfod, held with the Olympic games in the Vatican.

To be honest, neither of us was especially excited about visiting Olympia and we were doing so because of what it was. Our guide book - 'Bradt Guide to the Peloponnese' pub 2003 - said it was “over-excavated and confusing, but let it just do its magic” and it did!

The weather was overcast and at one point rained, but it was still busy with coach tours. The stadium was surprisingly low key, approached through a vaulted corridor. It was very shallow - it never had seats but could house up to 45,000. Start and finish line still in place, with everyone running a few yards!

We were most impressed with the enormous base for the temple of Zeus. On one side the enormous pillars had been toppled by the earth quake of the fifth century and looked amazing, as their sections had fallen in perfect lines - see the pictures. After that the remains were covered with silt for nearly 2000 years.  

One most atmospheric bit was the Palestra, a colonnaded square that had been the training area for the athletes, now with mature trees. The whole site is set with such trees and really conjures up what I mean by Arcadia, the name of the region where it is situated. I now could understand the desperate battle I had heard about when a huge forest fire came right up to the edge of the site. I was also just waiting for a chorus from G and S's Iolanthe singing 'In Arcady' to pop out from behind the columns!

We returned to the van for lunch just in time for the heavens to open and more torrential rain, after which the sun came out and we went to the museum, which again was surprisingly good, with a statue of Hermes found in the Temple of Hera, and especially the friezes from the Temple of Zeus. One shows a battle between the Lapiths and the Centaurs, who have got drunk and are assaulting the ladies present, including one Centaur who, most impolitely, has grabbed the bride by the breast! The central figure is Apollo, who has arrived to restore order.

We wandered along a lane beside the site and were able to look down upon it and contrast the idyllic scene full of lovely trees with the scrub that had sprung after the fire on the hill behind us.

We walked back through the tourist town, seeing on an international news stand that all the papers were united in having good news about the Chilean miners covering most of their front pages!

The Greeks are great sweepers - everywhere you pass someone is sweeping a balcony, step or campsite.

Friday 15 October 2010. We wandered into town to get bread and failed to find fruit and veg, then drove on in sunshine thank goodness. We drove through Pyrgos, hoping to find a supermarket and failed, so continued to Katakolo where we parked on the jetty. We did find some fruit and veg in town, we were almost out! We were greeted by an enterprising man who was selling fresh fruit as well as his own olive oil, which tasted very good indeed: a far more intense olive taste than I have had before. We were also greeted by the harbour master who even offered a hook-up at 5 Euros.

There was a water front full of the usual tavernas and behind that a row of tourist shops solely serving the tourist trade, which closed just as soon as the ship Nautica pulled out! Now they are not due to open until the next boat arrives on Sunday! A coach full of passengers just made it and even as the boat was leaving a local boat rushed out and delivered a few more into a door in the side!

Despite all the tourist tatt, it was very pleasant on the jetty with wide views each side and a pleasant breeze and sunshine. We were joined by the 3 English vans we had seen in Methoni.

Saturday 16 October 2010. A quiet day after a very hectic night, with a thunderstorm and crack of thunder just overhead that really shook the van. After a wet start it turned into a pleasant day. We had hoped to visit the town museum, that specialised in working models of ancient Greek inventions, but like everything else in the town it only opens when there is a large cruise ship in the harbour! Andy could not even get his gyros pitta because even the fast food outlet was closed! At lunch time we realised we had missed a trick - there is an excellent little train that runs from here to Olympia, 21 miles away, costing the princely sum of 3 Euros return. It calls in on Pygros on the way so we will probably come back here to go in for the day. It would be interesting to visit just an ordinary town.

I did a couple more sketches and had a walk on the sand while Andy caught up on emails, then we enjoyed the sunshine, sitting on the quay watching the world go by - something we cannot do if on a campsite as they are usually shady and a bit dismal this time of year. We have decided to scrap the washing day tomorrow and manage, so we don't need a campsite till Wednesday night, just before we go on the ferry. We swapped information and tips with the other motorhomers.

Sunday 17 October 2010. We woke up to the blackest sky ever and before long the rain was torrential with the usual thunder and lightning. At one point the hailstones were the size of marbles and made a great noise on the roof and a great sight as they hit the sea. We originally decided to go to a campsite today to do some washing!! - but decided we had enough knickers to get home. Then we thought we would have a wander today and come back to use the train to go into Pyrgos town on Monday. In reality we just sat tight, played with our toys and thanked goodness we were on hard standing with an interesting view!

We went out in the afternoon in a break in the weather and went to find the light house. We had assumed it would be on the point, but in reality it was on a slight rise and the sewage works had pride of place on the point!

A cruise ship was in today but as it was only a small one only a few of the shops were open. It was telling that postcards, which have been 25c everywhere else, were at least 40c here.

Several more motorhomes joined us but the little boats are being pulled out of the sea all the time here. The harbour master said there had been 300 boats in the harbour over the summer - is this mass evacuation happening all over the Peloponnese, or is this patch of coast especially prone to bad weather?

Monday 18 October 2010. We said goodbye to the other English motorhomers who were heading on this morning and made for the little train. It was established to aid the export of raisins after the phylloxera drama that wiped out the French grapes in the 1880s.When the line became redundant for that use it was taken over by the local railway company.

The rain started as soon as we left the station and by the time we reached the local town of Pygros it was heavy. The twenty-minute journey cost us 1.60 Euros return. We wandered the town in the rain and eventually made for a posh coffee shop in the town square, where the rain became absolutely torrential. The coffee was lovely and the toilets something to behold. I'm not sure you want to know this but the automatic seat cleaner was amazing, the way the seat revolved. We made our way back for the 12.20 train, which turned out not to exist, but by then the rain had eased so we were able to have a better look around the town. We found somewhere to have a chicken pitta in a very local part of town - in fact the whole town was just ordinary, which was interesting to visit. We really envied them their hardware shops, so many and so packed to the rafters with interesting usefuls.

Fortunately the 14.16 train was running so we returned to Katakolo. The cruise ship had departed, so the museum was still not open! However we returned to the van for cups of tea, then Andy went on-line while I sketched the scene I could see out of the window, then went for a stroll, meeting the sailor we had chatted to on the train. There was a line of about 5 serious boats – full-timers sailing the Med and much wider afield! He invited me on board and told me his life story. When chatting about the weather, he said that there had been an unseasonable very deep low over the Ionian Islands but it was slowly moving away and the weather should now improve, something we had been told elsewhere. I really would prefer to leave Greece remembering sunshine and not torrential rain.

Our electricity is now rather low, so we plugged up on the quay and settled down for what will probably be our last night here. The fish we cooked was lovely – wish we knew what it was!

We were side on to the quay and the wind and weather was so very very rough that the little boats were tossing so wildly, and we were rocking a great deal too all night through.

Tuesday 19 October 2010. I was woken by a tremendous squall and clap of thunder but it was fortunately short-lived. The next cruise ship was due in this morning but we saw it go past, despite the queue of waiting coaches on the quayside. We were not surprised, as we could see a really strong sea running beyond the harbour wall. However an hour later she tried again and this time managed to dock. When we looked the little museum was open at last and we spent an hour looking at models of Greek Inventions BC and films of them working - not as dry and boring as it sounds. There were many clocks, different sundials that did so much more than tell the time, and water clocks; automatic theatres that had characters that moved, altars lit and thunder clapped; cranes for constructing the monuments; milling and water shifting devices still in use today; a variety of magic tricks that depended on liquid levels, and so much more.

We then drove on with the intention of finding somewhere nice for lunch. Unfortunately because of the lack of sign posts we went almost round in a circle, but found a spot with an amazing sea running, where some people were rescuing beach equipment. After all the debris we have seen on roads and beaches, it is very clear this weather is unusual and unexpected.

Our efforts to do some shopping in Amaliada were very hampered by one-way streets and no sign posts, but eventually I found an excellent fruit and veg shop and a supermarket that had all I needed. We eventually battled our way out and, after quite a bit of driving about, we found a spot to stop with other camper vans, including the English we had seen before, beside a beach at Kalamia below Kastro. The others reported what we had thought, that the campsites were very wet and they had not used them as they feared being stuck. Also that parking was difficult at Kyllini, so we decided to stay put. Yet again we had a fine view of a running sea and, as it got dark, a grandstand view of yet another thunderstorm over the sea.

Wednesday 20 October 2010. Very heavy rain indeed during the night but by the morning things began to dry out and at last we had a dry warm day. We spent most of the morning beside the sea, admiring the view over to Kephalonia and Zakynthos. We then ventured to Kastro and admired the enormous castle but didn't go inside. We then drove on to the port of Kyllini, where we watched the Kephalonia ferry and had lunch before returning to the beach site to sit in the sun at last.

We then reluctantly made our way to Aginara Beach Camping (near Glyfa), not too expensive at 15 Euros, to do all the necessaries before the ferry and Venice.

Thursday 21 October 2010. We left the excellent campsite, which we would not hesitate to use once more, to go down to the beach and have bacon and eggs in sunshine. We spent the morning nattering with the other motorhomers and enjoying the view before heading north after lunch. We were told there had been heavy snow in Southern Germany - oh joy! We went to have a look at a beach stop at Kalogria, which was OK but not as nice as where we had been. However, there were many other spots we could stop, including the car park to some ancient walls at nearby Araxos. I had a long chat with a Dutchman who wanted to visit the Dorset Steam Fair!! We drove through the most wonderful nature reserve, firstly through pines, then through a very extensive area of wetland and lagoons.

We then drove to the port area of Patras - and relative chaos, in that no-one ever tells you where to go and it is all guess work and Chinese whispers. Then when you get to where you think you should be, there is no room to turn/park anyway! But the most worrying thing was the dozens of men hanging round the fence behind us and climbing over it and actually getting under a van close by! I do feel so sorry for them but was very relieved when we moved across the port to where we thought we ought to be. As I write this sitting in the van waiting for the ferry (to Venice) to arrive at 20.00, there is a lot of shouting from the lorries behind and two men have just run past.

We eventually loaded onto the ferry (at Patras), rather later than had been hoped. We had a mini-panic when each other row had been checked and given a boarding pass, and ours left out, but we were allowed on just the same and all the lorries were given a very thorough check. Then I just could not get to sleep, what with the worries when tired and boarding, all to do when we got home and all the ship's noises.

We woke to a very pleasant day and spent it largely trying to catch every last drop of light and heat. We were most amused to see that several people had actually erected tents on the deck in various places and set up home inside.

Saturday 23 October 2010. We woke up very early – 6.30 as I did not want to miss coming into Venice, which is so amazing as the ship makes its way through the city. However I had understood we docked at 8.00 whereas it turned out to be 10.00 am, so we had a lot of sitting around to do and could have had a lot more sleep. However it was well worth the wait. We returned to the very expensive car park and then made our way into the city once more, complaining bitterly about the cold.

We found the Rialto market and marvelled at all the fish. We could see the Rialto Bridge properly this time - last time it was busy with people involved in the Regatta.

We then made our way to St Mark's Square, where the water was seeping up through the pavement but fortunately not covering it. I decided not to go until tomorrow, as the weather is much better today than forecast tomorrow. We then continued to wander till Andy was exhausted and I continued by myself.

I found the Miracoli Church and glimpsed inside, then wandered back to the Piazza San Marco where several quartets were playing. During the Austrian Occupation the Venetians would boycott the square if Strauss was being played. Then on to find the Fenice, the opera house that burnt down and had recently been reconstructed. I popped my head into art galleries and courtyards and generally wandered till I too was exhausted and returned over the Accademia Bridge, where I was delighted to find I could easily recognise my way back. By then it was twilight and everything looked even more magical.

Sunday 24 October 2010. Unfortunately Andy woke with a bad headache so he decided to stay put for the time being, joining me later if he felt better. In the event it came on to rain.

I wandered in via the Accademia Bridge and in fact spent a great deal of time investigating interesting turnings, so that I did not reach St Mark's Square until 11.30. The square was under a great deal more water than the day before, spreading insidiously. People were either stranded or using the walkways provided. It was amusing to see a musical quartet from one of the grand cafes performing to a sea of chairs in water. People wading through in wellies were up to their ankles.

I went into the Ducal Palace: extremely sumptuous, grand rooms with ornate ceilings and huge paintings all glorifying the Doge and Venice. Casts of thousands in pictures of the Battle of Lepanto, and every time the importance of Venice and the Doge above even Christ and other religious figures.

Looking out of the tiny windows on the Bridge of Sighs I could see the Venice Marathon along the water front and when I came out of the palace I went to watch for a while. By now the big names had long since run through and it was very much a local affair, with lots of cheering for friends and family. I walked beside the runners and the water front for a while, then turned inland to find something to eat.

When I returned to St Mark's Square it was a lot drier but I was unable to go into the cathedral as planned, as it was shut for a Patronal festival - so annoying as I should have gone yesterday. Never mind, I will just have to come back!!

I decided to use my ticket which covered other museums, so went to the Museo Correr in the corner of the square. This included a civic museum, archaeology and a handsome library. Time was getting on so I attempted to find a 'traghetti', a gondola ferry across the Grand Canal, but unfortunately it was not running so, as I could see the Rialto Bridge, I thought I had better make for that. There are only 3 bridges that cross the Grand Canal, so one has to work out the route. In an attempt to dodge the crowds with brollies in narrow alleys, I took a side turning and took a considerable time to get back to the Piazzale Roma and the people- mover, which quickly took me back to the van.  

We had decided to seek the cheaper parking spot for the night and paid for the present one - over 50 Euros for 36 hours - but so very convenient. Our efforts to find the cheaper one were in vain (it was now charging 10 Euros up to midnight and 10 beyond), so we were forced to drive on in the rain and gathering gloom.

Monday 25 October 2010. Heavy rain throughout the night and still raining hard in the morning - we've had inches of rain over the last fortnight. We left Italy still raining but it improved a little into Switzerland, though we were very quick to notice the snow on the hills around Lake Como. As we drove on we noticed that there was a very definite snow line on all the surrounding mountains but it looked as if the sun was shining up there. The passes were closed but thankfully the St Gotthard tunnel was open, although it was snowing when we came out.

We drove on to better weather and lovely autumn colours. I was interested to see a rest area where the sun shades for the cars were solar panels - how clever. We drove uneventfully past Basel then north towards Strasburg, where we sought and found a spot right beside the Rhine. I could happily watch barges in the gathering gloom and, sitting beside our back window, watch their lights as they went upstream in the dark.

Tuesday 26 October 2010. We woke really frozen, to a beautiful Autumn day with a very heavy frost. We drove north and found 2 really great sites to stay beside the Rhine. One was beside where the Rhone canal left the Rhine, which would be really interesting to explore another time.

We then had an absolutely beautiful drive through the Alsace countryside, ablaze with the most wonderful Autumn colours. The colours were all so bright. Eventually we found the Real supermarket we were looking for at Saarlutten, then drove to a spot beside the village of Redu for the night.

Wednesday 27 October 2010. We wandered into Redu looking for a 'boulangerie' but it was a miniature Hay on Wye - full of bookshops and no bread. We drove on through more beautiful colours till we found an absolutely enormous hypermarket outside Lille, where we spent a confusing couple of hours. We then drove on to our usual spot at Gravelines, which was so much quieter than in September but still had 12 vans in residence.

Thursday 28 October 2010. We were up early enough to get our bread and admire the town decorated ready for Remembrance Day. We thought we were in plenty of time for the ferry and were rather confused when it loaded straight away and sailed a full half an hour early. All was revealed when we opened a letter from the Camping Club at home, containing a ticket for the outward journey after it sailed and amending the time of the return - we were lucky to catch it! We then spent our gained time in the sunshine on Dover seafront having a very early lunch, as we have never found anywhere nice to eat around the M25!

So it was back home, and hitting the ground running …

If you have been - thanks for reading

Rosemary Newton, November 2010