Friday 27 May 2016

The Twelfth Week

Monday 23-5-16

It was Monday and we’d had enough of campsites for a while.  Van Brian got his dirty tanks emptied and his clean ones filled. We paid up at reception and dialled in a Lidl on the sat nav. On the way we passed this wreck on a beach.  The Dimitrios.

 When we got to the Lidl we found four other vans in the carpark, I wonder how much they make from people touring in motorhomes and looking for cheap booze and food?  We gave them €120 anyway.  Not much further on as we rounded a bend we spotted a beach.  The rest is as per usual, we drove down to it parked up and that was us sorted for the night.

There was a small campervan there too and later a big Hymer van turned up.  At the far end of the beach road was a fairly new harbour, it looked very well made with posts and rings to tie off boats and strong sea defences.  But it was clogged full of seaweed and as far as we could see had never been used.  There was one of those EU funding signs on the road so maybe they got some money to build it but hadn’t got enough to run it afterwards.  Whatever, it was an odd thing in the middle of nowhere and seemed a shame that it wasn’t being used.

 I’d bought myself a nice bottle of Merlot, expensive for us at €2.40, which I saw off that night as well as some beers and a film.

Wild Camping at Kokkinia Beach, Greece.  N36.79897 E022.78284

Tuesday 24-5-16

On our way back off the beach we stopped at the EU funding sign and took a photo.  We translated it later as best we could using a Greek – English dictionary and came up with “Construct Fishing Shelter Natural Disaster at Kokkinia Sweet Industry Marsh Lake – € 195700.00 – 2007 to 2013”  which I’m sure is not quite right but gives a rough idea of what it was all about.

 We’d read of a beach with a taverna that was ok to stop at so headed there, it was only 12 miles around the coast.  We found it at the end of a long road through an orange grove.  Oranges seem to have taken over from olives as the crop of choice in this area.   Four other vans were there too.

I spoke to a Dutchman stopping there, who said he’d been coming to Greece for twenty years and this year was the first time they’d paid to use a camping and only as they’d met up with his sister at one for a week.  He also said that in the Nederland’s if you parked on a beach the locals would come and say it isn’t allowed and to go away while in Greece the locals come to you and say well done for finding such a nice place to stop.  I had to agree that it was the same in the UK.  I also found out that the taverna wasn’t open in the week, only the weekends, which was a shame as it wasn’t a long walk home after a few beers.

We got treated to a sunset over the sea before dinner, which is always welcome.

Wild Camping at Boza Beach, Greece.  N36.70449 E022.82046

Wednesday 25-5-16

So we moved on today, heading south down the right hand finger of the Peloponnese.  We called in at a town where vans were parked in a field next to a taverna but it was nowhere near the sea and looked a bit grotty.  The last big place down this bit is Neapoli.  We got there and had a nosy but it didn’t look promising for an overnight stop.  As we’d got to the bottom of the west side the only way now was up again on the east side.  We drove north until we got to a turn off that would take us over the ridge that runs down the peninsular to that east side.  This was a very small, very windy, very steep road.  At the top we stopped at a little blue and white church with views of the sea on both sides. This was at 450m above sea level.

West Coast one side

East Coast on the other
After this we dropped down to the East side on an equally small, bendy, steep road and at the sea turned north to Gefira.  From Gefira you can drive or walk over a short causeway to a big rock on an island called Monemvasia.  We parked at the harbour and walked across.

Some vans were stopping at a taverna carpark below the rock, but it all looked a bit busy with sightseers.  In the harbour carpark where we’d parked were three huge tour busses and the town had a definite tourist trap feel about it.  So we left and wandered around the coast for three or four miles and eventually found a beach with some pine trees to park under.

This was more our kind of place, and we could see the big rock on an island across the bay, probably better than those parked directly underneath it.

So we were happy and had lunch in the shade then followed by snooze in the shade and sun on the beach.  A big Swiss motorhome turned up late afternoon and tried to park on the sand.  He broke both his ramps and wedged one under his bumper.  But he wouldn’t give up and spent half an hour digging himself in deeper and deeper while his wife shouted at him in German from a safe distance.  But I guess there’s not a lot of seaside beaches in Switzerland to practice on.

Wild camping at Monemvassia Beach, Greece.  N36.72825 E023.02591

Thursday 26-5-16

The Swiss van extracted himself from his sand trap and left in the morning.  We were the only ones here and decided to give this place another day.  We walked down the beach in search of a taverna but it was hard going.  The sand was gritty and not at all solid, like walking in snow but in 30 degree heat.  So we gave up on that idea.

At the side of the beach we saw some huge, 6 foot high cacti, I think they’re Aloe Vera.

A German van turned up, a make I’d not heard of before, a Tikro.  The guy in it had a chat with us and I asked about the van.  The company only made 500 of these.  The owner of Stiez, the company that makes virtually all the windows for motorhomes and caravans in Europe, decided to retire and sold his company to Dometic, who make fridges for motorhomes and caravans.  He looked to buy himself a motorhome but couldn’t find what he wanted, a van less than 6m long and 2m wide with a big garage in the back and a full sized shower and toilet.  So he built his own, then friends wanted one so he built more. In the end he stopped being retired and was back in business again.  When he’d built 500 of them he quit work again and no more were made.

The problem this German had and a lot of the other owners too, was the engine in the Peugeot front end.  Peugeot used a Ford transit engine and according to this chap it wasn’t very good.  His had blown up at 50k km and so had lots of other peoples.  A problem with cracked pistons.  It cost him €12,000 to replace the engine.  A shame as it looked like a well thought out motorhome.
And there wasn’t much else to say about our lazy day at the beach.

Wild camping at Monemvassia Beach, Greece.  N36.72825 E023.02591

Friday 27-5-16

It was a lovey spot but we decided to move on, there's always something better around the corner.  And we went round the corner and then a few more corners.  In the end we did 80 miles today.  After a quick supermarket raid we headed north.  We looked at a couple of likely beaches to stop at but neither had any shade and it was 32 degrees today.  Both of these beaches were down ridiculously small windy roads with very steep hairpin bends.

The next option for us was a harbour 50 miles north of here which meant us climbing up to 950 meters above sea level.  The sat nav sent us into a village and we had to squeeze between houses with only a couple of inches on either side of the van. The scenery was great but the driving was a tad stressful.

At one point while driving down one of the better roads of the day through a nice pine forest the tarmac ran out and we found ourselves on a gravel road which lasted for five miles with yet more hairpin bends before the tarmac returned.  Eventually we came to the coast again and could see the harbour town below us.

But the crappy road trend continued as we did another steep hairpin descent to the town.  We spotted a sign for a camping which had been recommended to us a few weeks ago and decided a camping would be nice after the stressful day I’d had driving.  And that’s where we ended, at Camping Semeli.  A nice little site with free Wi-Fi, hot showers, washing machines and a beach, all for €15 a night including electric hook up.  And to top it off, they have a small café on site which served us wonderful iced coffees.  I think I’ll like it here.

Camping Semeli, Greece. N37.14938 E022.89241

Cheers, the Van Brian Crew.

Below are the updated facts and figures for 80 days away.

Sunday 22 May 2016

The Eleventh Week

Sunday 15-5-16

Last night we ate at the Taverna whose carpark we were stopping at overlooking the bay. 

 It felt like we were in France, every other table had French people sat at them.  Two tables had French boaty people off yachts in the harbour and two others had French people from the two other vans in the carpark.  The taverna wasn’t doing badly off its little carpark.  The food was good if not a little sea orientated, we had squid, octopus, mussels and chips.

 In the morning we left and headed north.  We stopped and looked back on the southernmost tip of Greece and the little harbour that we’d stopped at last night. 

The coast this side was very rocky and devoid of beaches for us to stop at.  Although we did have to stop for goats.

 But at a town called Kotronas we found a small sandy beach and a jetty to park on.  Another English couple had also found it, they’d been there two days, Pat and Phil whose blog is Travels in a Motorhome.  We had a long chat with them and got a lot of info about other places we were going, I think they said they’d toured Greece three times before.  They left to go to Camping Meltemi on our recommendation.  

We walked up the hill through the town, I can’t think of anywhere quite as sleepy as a small Greek town on a Sunday afternoon.  It was a nice place and deserved our company for two days. We had coffees at the taverna looking over the beach and our van on the jetty.

 A Belgium van turned up and the couple in it walked their dogs on the jetty, five large greyhounds and a Jack Russell.  We dared not think what the inside of their van was like with that lot in it.  But everyone to their own.  Also the lure of a pizza restaurant called ΠΑΡΑΛΙΑ ΚΑΦΕ – ΠΙΤΣΑΡΙΑ got to us, we checked the menu and decided that tonight’s dinner was cheesy and flat.

Van Brian, never far out of sight..
After our dinner, which was very good and made better by chatting to the young chap who owned the place, we retired to the van.  On the way back we spoke to the dog owning Belgian’s.  They go to Spain and rescue them, they’re a Spanish breed of hunting Greyhound called a Galgo.  He said they get killed or abandoned at two or three years old when they can’t be used for hare coursing or hunting anymore.

Wild Camping, Kotronas Harbour, Greece. N36.61849 E022.49431

Monday 16-5-16

The first job of the day was to load up the slow cooker with whatever we had in the fridge, this turned out to be some stewing steak, an aubergine, a tomato and an onion.  This I topped up with red wine and some tomato puree.  I call it Pot Luck Stew.  The solar panel can cook it via the 240 volt inverter as its sunny enough today.  We waved the Belgian’s and their rescued dogs off and then walked up through the town and down a road signposted to the beach.  This we gave up on after walking a long way with no sign of a beach but we did find a small shop to get fresh bread and a church for very small people. 

 On the harbour two fishing boats came back from fetching their nets in and four vans came down to buy their catch.  In five minutes it was all sold and then the vans shot off.  We presumed to sell the fish to the fish tavernas that are in every town around here.  In the afternoon we sat in the taverna and I indulged my new addiction, iced coffee.  

A French van turned up later and we spoke to them, as usual maps came out and we compared places.  I showed him how to put gps coordinates in his Garmin sat nav and he gave Liz some Diclofenac spray for her back.  That night we heard a sound outside and went out to find two lads with a torch and a kids fishing net.  They showed us a large crayfish and said tonight was good for catching them due to the bright moon.

Wild Camping, Kotronas Harbour, Greece. N36.61849 E022.49431

Tuesday 17-5-16

It was our 70th day away today.  It seems to be going far too quickly.  We walked up to the mini-market and got bread, beer and wine for two days and then left the harbour.  I’d enjoyed Kotronas, a great little place with friendly people.

Seven miles up the road we turned off onto a very small road that ended up at a beach.  We liked it so pitched up next to a big bamboo that gave us some shade.

At the far end of the beach were two other vans facing each other with awnings out and tables a chairs set up, it looked like they’d been there a while.  Our fridge seemed to be struggling today maybe because of the eight warm cans of beer and a big bottle of wine we’d just dumped in it.  It was also a hot day, so for the first time this trip I put the fans on that draw air through the cooling grills at the back of it. I hid in the shade of the bamboo and Liz sunbathed and went snorkelling.  We decided to stay for two nights.

Wild Camping, Kamares Beach, Greece.  N36.67980 E022.52204

Wednesday 18-5-16

After a great night’s sleep, the temperature was just right and there was no noise from dogs or traffic, we continued where we left off yesterday.  Sunbathing and reading.

Just before lunch we walked the mile to the end of the beach where it looked from a distance that there was a taverna. This turned out to be a small hotel with a couple of parasols stuck on the beach.  So no iced coffee, I was getting withdrawal symptoms. 

Back at the van a chap pulled up in a pick-up truck selling veggies and fruit.  And that was our only contact with the outside world today.  One other thing happened that seemed odd.  A car stopped on the road behind the beach and an old lady got out of the back seat and came round the driver’s door talked to the driver and looked at the road.  She then got back in the back of the car and they drove off.  I went to look at the road where they stopped and there was a dead snake.  Was she the family snake expert or just very nosey?  It bothered me. I think I need something better to occupy my mind than dead snakes on the road.

Wild Camping, Kamares Beach, Greece.  N36.67980 E022.52204
Thursday 19-5-16, Friday 20-5-16 and Saturday 21-5-16

The cupboards were bare. No veggies, meat, bottled water, beer or wine.  A big shop was first order of the day.  We left the beach and headed for the biggest town around here, Gytheio.  A nice port and best of all a nice supermarket.  We blew 120 euros on provisions, which sounds more adventurous than groceries.  We also learnt something, they take a deposit on the beer bottles.  I must have thrown 30 euros worth of the buggers in the bin since we’ve been in Greece.  I was distraught.  But then realised I’d found myself some paid employment while traveling, the more beer I drink the more money I’ll make on bottle returns, it’s a win win situation.  
Then it was back to Camping Meltemi, the site we left a week ago.  We checked in but our mail from the UK hadn’t arrived yet, so now we just play the waiting game.  Our Austrian friend we met last time was still here, Herman.  We had a chat and he was very happy that Liz’s back was better.
On Friday we had excitement on site, the mini-market opened up.  

Not great news you’d think but it also has a little cafe which sells iced coffee so I can get my daily fix.  Also as we were walking back to the van the campsite lady brought us over our mail from the UK.  It took exactly a week to arrive from being posted, not bad. 

I spent a happy hour watching a Dutchman try to get a satellite TV signal while parked under the sun canopies they have here to shade the vans.  In the end he gave up and just left his van sticking out into the road.  Then to add to my satellite viewing pleasure a little van arrived and a Greek chappy climbed on a Frenchman’s roof.  He took the satellite dish to bits, messed with it for half an hour then gave up and drove off leaving old Frenchie satelliteless.  I’m glad we haven’t got one of the things, they seem a lot of bother.  Then in the afternoon we had to play indoors as it rained.  I took the time to update the Big Google Map with descriptions and photos of all our overnight stops. 

The rain was gone on Saturday.  But a wind had got up and the waves were bigger than we’ve seen before. 

The surfers got the surf kit out and did that thing they do.  The thing where they lay on the board pointing out to sea and paddling with their arms but not really going anywhere, letting the wave roll in under themselves.  Still it looks like fun but I’m sure I’ve seen films of people actually standing on the boards pointing back towards the beach.  I slung some meat and veggies in the slow cooker for dinner.  We (Liz) had a good clean up session on the van, a week on beaches had took its toll.  The bathroom got a good bleaching and the bedding got washed. 

I didn’t go as far as to clean the outside of the van though, I like the dirty weathered look.  The Taverna was open on the site as well now but we preferred to have a Saturday night in with the second season of The Wire on the laptop and a beer.

Camping Meltimi, Maurovouni, Greece.  N36.72928 E022.55327

Cheers, the Van Brian Crew.

Below are the updated facts and figures for 75 days away.

Saturday 14 May 2016

The Tenth Week

Sunday 8-5-16, Monday 9-5-16, Tuesday 10-5-16 and Wednesday 11-5-16

Our wild camp next to the beach at Neo Oitylo Seafront was nice but we’d been there two days so it felt like we should move on.  From here we had two choices, continue south on the small west coast road and then hit the bottom and try to return north up an even smaller road on the east coast.  Or take a red road on the map, from here to the east coast across country.  After considering things like food stocks, beer stocks and Liz’s bad back, which seemed to be made worse by my enthusiastic driving around hairpins and bumpy roads, we opted for the latter.  

Up and over the spine of the Mani peninsular to a town called Mavrovouni near a bigger town called Gytheio.  It had an open supermarket, which was handy as it was Sunday.  We thought we’d be eating what remained of some frozen pork meatballs that really just tasted of mint, and neither of us cared for.  As an added bonus the buy 4 and get 2 free packs of Amstel were stocked, so we grabbed a couple of them too.  

We’d passed a campsite coming in to town and decided to go back and see what it was like.  It suited our simple tastes and we pitched up.  All the pitches were named after Greek gods and after careful consideration I settled on Hercules.

The Camping Meltemi is in an olive grove that ends at the sea.  They cater to wind surfers with racks for their sails and boards. 

The campsite is named after the Meltemi wind that blows across the bay.  Everything on the site was old and homemade but freshly painted, clean and tidy.  I was most impressed with their "Internet Wagon"  

I had my head shaved by Liz for the second time, the last time in Southern France, this time we got the setting wrong and I was left looking a bit like someone I wouldn’t want to meet down a dark alley.

 After an hour of being there a chap came over and loudly introduced himself in German as Herman.  I said I was sorry but I didn’t really speak much German apart from ordering a bier or saying I love you, neither being much use when talking to a 70 year old man in baggy shorts.  Not a problem for Herman the German, he spoke English too, lots of it very loudly.  Apart from his volume we got on well with old Herman, he was stopping on site for two months and made a point of shouting at everyone.  I said we might stay a week while Liz rested her bad back so then, every time he walked by, he’d shout at me enquiring as to whether her back was better.  He always seemed very happy when I said it was getting better.  

One day Herman asked me if I liked meat.  I said I did, very much so.  He said I should go to town, find the butcher and order fillet beef from him. He’d get some in for me the next day and I could then pick it up.  He said it was only 22 euro a kilo whereas at home he paid 45 euro a kilo for the same meat.  I said I would look for the butcher, I couldn’t really tell him that that would blow two or three days food budget for us for one meal.  After a couple of days I thought it would be nice to walk down the beach to town and do a bit of shopping, we needed coffee and veggies.

Just as I turned off the beach into town a big nasty dog decided I was fair game and followed me snarling and barking.  I regretted not having a walking stick, I thought if it were to attack I’d have to wrestle with it bare handed.  As it happened a little girl on a balcony told it to shush, in Greek and it left me in peace.  I eventually ended up at the same supermarket, so of course, as well as the coffee and vegies, I felt obliged to buy 12 more big bottles of the cheap beer.  As I paid I remembered I didn’t have a vehicle in the carpark but had to walk back with it all.  Nobody stopped to help the tubby, sweaty, red headed Englishman as he trudged 3km in the mid-morning sun back to the campsite.  

Liz spent mornings and afternoons on the beach tanning and resting her back, I wandered about and read. 

All very chilled, but on Wednesday Liz felt better and we decided to leave on Thursday, We’d backtrack to the West side and then continue South down the coast of the Mani.  I went to say goodbye to Herman the German and found out, after seeing his number plate, that he was an Austrian.  Such a shame as Herman the Austrian doesn’t have the same ring to it.  He said he was from Linz, the only thing I knew about Linz was that Hitler had gone to secondary school there, I decided not to mention this.  

Also on the night before we left an English couple turned up in a motorhome, the first GB we’d seen for 8 weeks since a Welsh couple in Italy.  They’d been touring since last September and had done Spain, Morocco and Portugal before France, Italy and over to Greece, like us.

Camping Meltimi, Maurovouni, Greece.  N36.72928 E022.55327

Thursday 12-5-16

We’ve got some documents we need to sign that are in the UK, so we spoke to the campsite lady and she said it wasn’t a problem for us to have mail sent there.  We said we’d be back in a week and left Camping Meltimi.  We bought food, beer and diesel, which, added to our full gas tanks and full water tank meant we’d got a full van.  The crapper and grey waste tanks were empty too.  This meant we could disappear for a week with no need of the services of a campsite or shop.  We drove back over the hills to the West coast, through the largest town around here called Areopoli, which wasn’t very large at all, and down to a white pebbled bay near a town on the map called Diros, that as far as we could see didn’t exist at all. 

This is the start of an area that’s called the Deep Mani.  As it turned out it was the next bay on from the one that had a tourist attraction called the Diros Caves.  Liz swam out to sea and could see into the next bay, she saw a coach and a carpark.  We were quite happy in our bay at the end of a dead end road. 

Two other motorhomes were here, an Italian couple that we’d seen four weeks ago in the North when we camped under olive trees in a tiny cove and a pair of very large French people who got their BBQ out at lunch.  By the evening the strip of road next to the beach was hosting six French vans, one Italian and us.  We sat outside watching the sunset and listening to the sea on the pebble beach.

Wild camping at Diros Bay, Greece. N36.64063 E022.38301

Friday 13-5-16

I had a battle with some mozzies during the night and they won.  I got up very early and read.  It was cool and I figured I’d have plenty of time to catch up with my sleep the next day.  I watched the Italian van leave at 6am, he very politely crawled down the road so as not to wake anyone.  And the rest of the day just flew by.  Naps, sun, reading, lunch, naps, reading, sun.  We enjoyed our beachside spot. 

And then before dinner I sat outside the van with a beer and went a bit sunset crazy with the camera. 

Greek meatballs filled us up and then we had an early night.  It’d been a tiring day.

Wild camping at Diros Bay, Greece. N36.64063 E022.38301

Saturday 14-5-16

This morning we decided to leave the beach and head further down into the deep Mani but we didn’t intend coming this far.  We did stop at two places people have camped at before.  The first was a tiny beach at the end of a tiny track.  But some Greek potholers, or cavers as they described themselves, had got there before us.

We talked to them and they said we could park up next to their cars and tents but we thought it was a bit crowded for such a tiny beach. One said he was off to Yorkshire next month to go caving with a group called Hidden England.  The next place was at a town which was a struggle to drive through and the only place to park was already occupied by another van so we carried on south.  Over the last bit of the mountain range that runs down the spine of this peninsular.  The roads were small and the scenery rocky, it reminded me of the Outer Hebrides in Scotland, even the plants and grey sky took on a Scottish theme.

We eventually ended up at the end of the road, we then drove down the beach in front of a Taverna to its car park facing out into the bay and harbour.  We couldn’t go any further.  We were at the southernmost tip of mainland Greece and the second southernmost point in mainland Europe after Tarrifa in Spain, I’ve been there too and this is nicer.   

Thats us on the left...
We spoke to the lady at the taverna and said we’d eat there tonight if we could stay in the car park.  Not a problem and we could use the sun beds in front of her house too.  The sun came out and we decided this was good enough for us. So that’s where we are now, the only way to go now is back up north.  And that’s what we’ll do tomorrow.  But we have a Saturday night out in The Taverna Porto in Porto Kagio to look forward to first, but only after a bit of a snooze.

I might get into trouble for this one....

Taverna Carpark, Porto Kagio, Greece.  N36.42829 E022.48696

Cheers, the Van Brian Crew.

Below are the updated facts and figures for 67 days away.