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2007 A Pen-Insular Life PDF Printable Version E-mail


A Pen-Insular Life

Or: 'Where do Motorhomers go in the Winter?'

Barry and Margaret Williamson

Messinia , Peloponnese, Greece

January 2007

The answer is that the great majority of those motorhomers not hibernating flock down to the beaches of Spain and Portugal. Bumper to bumper they travel and bumper to bumper they sleep. Since the Greeks invented 'democracy' (or at least they invented the word), we take a minority view and follow the lead of the original 'Homer': we head for xenophobic Greece!

Many routes cross the Alps by mountain pass or tunnel to Italy, from where four ferry routes ply the Adriatic to a pair of Greek ports. From north of the Alps, three routes now thread their way overland to Greece through the awakening Balkans. We hardly ever need repeat ourselves.

Greece has been our winter home for 8 out of the 12 years of full-time travel which define our retirement. We aim for the Peloponnese, the southern part of the Greek mainland, which hangs from the whole of Europe by the single thread of the Isthmus of Corinth, now cut by the ribbon of the Canal.

For the first few years, we chose the peninsula formed by the Frankish fortress hill of Chlemoutsi, in the northwest of the Peloponnese, favouring the splendidly winter-empty campgrounds of Aginara or Ionion Beach. The island of Zakinthos floated on our horizon, anchored 10 miles out in the Ionian Sea, patiently awaiting the next quake of land and water.

More recently, we have come further south: as far south as it is possible to travel on the Greek mainland. We are on the westernmost of the three peninsulas at the foot of the Peloponnese: each one a mountain range dipping its feet in the warm Mediterranean Sea. Down here, our horizon is a flat line between layered hues of blue: Saharan Libya announces its distant presence only in an occasional shower of sandy rain.

Other winters have found us in Morocco, Turkey, India, East Asia, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, where confusions over hemispheres have often turned winter into summer. But if Qantas were Greek, they, like us, would sing: "I've been to cities that never close down, from New York to Rome and old London town, but no matter how far or how wide I roam, I still call Greece home." Sadly, it doesn't scan quite as well as the original!

What do we do in Greece, in the winter? Primarily, it's a break from travelling. For example, in 2006 we motorhomed and cycled for 17,000 miles, living and travelling in 28 European countries, with Olympic Greece forming a natural start and finishing line. Overall, it's now time to catch up on the things that travelling inhibits!

It's a time to get fit again if we haven't been pedalling enough of the miles covered in the previous year. The 8,000-ft mountain ranges of the Peloponnese are designed for the development of instant fitness. It's that or nothing! Wonderful country! Complex hills, valleys, bays and headlands are woven together by networks of traffic-free and orchard-lined roads and lanes, linking compact rural villages almost untouched by time, where donkeys still carry their loads, human and agricultural. Expatriates limit their intrusive presence to those places with a view of the sea and access to the beach – both of little interest to any Greek except the fisherman. Many villages have a welcoming Kafenion, often with a table on a terrace where a 'Nes' (tepid frothy Nescafé) and a glass of water accompany our home-made sandwiches. Locals look on with benign condescension!

It's a time to write. This year we have taken a room on the empty Finikes campground, so that we can leave the laptops, printer and accessories connected and ready for the sporadic insertion of words and pictures. We have a website to update (500 images and several new articles have already woven their world-wide way onto the web); we have a number of articles to write for a UK motorhome magazine (MMM) and much past experience to recapture and record.

It's a time to winter-clean. With the motorhome parked alongside our room, there is opportunity to clean places that even we did not know existed. Dust and dead insects from every EU country and more besides wait to be sucked up into a more diverse life in a warm Greek waste dump. There are cracks to be filled, WD40 to be sprayed and a number of electrical connections to be remade. We may even try some painting. Road-worn and overweight she may be, after 12 years on the road, but our motorhome is still sprightly enough for the gentle demands we make on her.

It's a time to read, view and review. Friends we have made in Greece, particularly John and Lis living an alternative expatriate life up in the hills (e.g. they speak Greek and generate their own electricity and water), and Gordon and Wendy just along our beach, lend us books and DVD's. The 'Athens News', a weekly English-language newspaper, brings us up to date with the sorry state of Greek economics, education, politics, agriculture, environment, etc.

And the newspaper does help to give meaning to some of the images that puzzle us each week on the 15 or so channels of local TV news!

Puzzles? Agriculture employs more people here than in France, which has 6 times the population. One fifth of the country's water supply is used to grow cotton. Worship of the 12 gods of Ancient Greece is now an official religion. The Revolutionary Struggle terrorist group has just fired a rocket-propelled anti-tank grenade through the window of the US Ambassador's personal executive bathroom. Students, once enrolled in a university (all of which are fee-free), can stay until they pass. Greek police are not allowed to enter any university or polytechnic campus. Under the present bureaucratic regime, it will take several hundred years to give EU-required long-term resident status to all eligible legal immigrants in Greece. Employees of the Ministry of the Aegean have been on strike since 20 December 2006, demanding to be given something to do. An ordinary Greek citizen cannot own an LPG- or diesel-powered car or any sort of van. And so it goes on . . . . .

After a month or six weeks or more of this, we shall be quite ready for the road again.