I am sitting writing this in our latest port of call, Kyparissi, on the east coast of the Peloponnese. My main thought right now is that today is the halfway point in our trip. But I don’t really want to think about that! We have certainly settled into a rhythm on this trip, even though we up-sticks every week or so, we have got the process down to a fine art. And our bags are getting lighter which is also a bit of a relief. The flapjacks we brought with us are long gone, the tea bag supply is dwindling, and all the Italy guidebooks have been posted home. So what have we been up to other than climbing?
Well, the journey across from Italy to Patras in Greece was quite memorable, for the wrong reasons. Gale force winds meant the 18 hour ferry journey was a bit like being on a rollercoaster, I am actually quite surprised we sailed at all. But the boat held up (which is more than I can say for my stomach) and it delivered us to Patras in reasonable time. The worst of the weather was overnight, once dawn had broken the seas had calmed and it was altogether less severe. I discovered the best tactic was to sit still, so I stayed in the cabin and Jon regularly went outside to report on the view, each time returning, slightly wind-blasted, with a bit of a goofy grin. Towards the end of the journey he turned to me and said “Despite the fact that it is uncomfortable, the food is lousy and there is nothing to do, I am actually quite enjoying myself”!
We couldn’t pick the car up until the following day, so we spent a really enjoyable afternoon / evening walking the streets of Patras. When you don’t plan to visit a city you have no expectations of it, so Patras was a lovely surprise. From the large pedestrianised areas to the street art which varied from huge images over whole buildings to random graffiti. And of course the cats. Greece is full of semi-feral cats. No-one owns the cats, but they are viewed as part of the community, and are generally looked after accordingly.
The next day saw us drive down the west coast, past the site of ancient Olympia (which we visited when we were here last year) and ending up in Sparta for lunch. This proved to be a little problematic as we really just wanted something quick to eat as we drove past, so we didn’t go into the centre but stayed on the edge of town. We spied a somewhat shabby, run-down place that had a few tables and some people seated at one them, so we ventured in. All conversation stopped the minute we entered. The eyes of the three old men sitting at the table turned to us, and the owner stood looking at us with a confused expression on his face. A quick look around did not help, there were no visible menus, no sign of other customers, just one table of men eating their gyros. We tried to ask a question, but the blank faces and a stream of Greek words suggested we would not get far. So I plastered a big smile on my face, said “Efcharisto” (which is Greek for “thank you”) and we beat a retreat. 200 metres down the road we found a modern little cafe with recognisable words and young people behind the counter who spoke excellent English. And served excellent Spanakopita, a filo pasty pie filled with cheese and spinach. Delicious!
Re-fuelled we continued on to the very tip of the eastern peninsula and our destination of Neapoli Voion, a resort town that was still remarkably busy even out of season. It is the largest town within a couple of hours drive, so we figured it is quite heavily used by the local population as well. Our apartment was an old fisherman’s cottage with tiny doors and an outside bathroom. By the end of the week this wasn’t a problem, but on day one, when it was 8 degrees Celsius and there was a howling gale blowing, it was rather off-putting to have to venture outside, albeit briefly, in order to get to the loo!
Avoiding the wind was the key theme to our 6 days in Neapoli and it had quite an impact on our climbing. Fortunately there were a couple of other things to do in the area when the wind became too much. Very close to the climbing crag and right on the coast are the remains of a petrified forest, clearly identifiable tree trunks now turned to stone. These fossils are distributed along a sea-level rock platform, some are only a few centimetres above the platform, others stand proud rising up by a metre or more. There were two that formed straws through the rock platform and eruptions of seawater occurred every few seconds in time with the waves.
We also visited the nearby Kastania cave, an incredible cave system that is still actively growing (or rather shrinking) with the formation of stalactites and stalagmites still occurring. Normally we avoid guided tours but in this cave that was our only choice, and I have to say we learnt a lot more because of it. There were only 4 of us plus the guide, so it was more of a conversation about the cave as we walked around. The cave is quite large but it didn’t feel big as the space was so densely filled with an incredible number of different formations, shapes and structures. We were stepping around stalactites in order to walk along the path.
After departing Neapoli Voion we headed up to Monemvasia so that I could get a dose of “old stones”. Monemvasia is home to a medieval fortress and town located on an island accessed by a short bridge (which used to contain a drawbridge). The fortress is in ruins over the top of a huge chunk of rock, forming a large plateau 200m above the sea. The old fortified town on its flanks has been extensively restored and is now a tourist hotspot full of hotels in medieval houses, but the chaotic streets still give an impression of what it must have been like in its heyday, full of people and noise and the clutter of everyday life.
After a couple of hours stomping all over the island we retreated back to the mainland and sat in the sun in a sheltered cafe by the harbour, eating a traditional Greek lunch which I don’t think could have tasted any better. After a week focussed entirely on climbing it was nice to relax in the sun and let my mind wander over something completely different.
We continued up the coast to Kyparissi, our current location, a small seaside town that is accessed by a very scary mountain road. It is such a picturesque town and we loved being here when we visited last October. We are staying on the opposite side of town this time, in an apartment with its own orange and lemon trees (delicious!) and a contingent of 6 cats who keep a watchful eye on us.
Our first day here was damp after overnight rain, so we decided to explore one of the coastal trails instead of climbing. The 2 hour walk was one of those gorgeous expeditions that are just a joy to be on. The path meandered around the edge of the hill surrounded by greenery but was never actually enclosed by trees. The wild flowers are in bloom creating pockets of vibrant colour in amongst the dense dark green of the scrubland bushes, and small deserted coves appeared on the coast with crystal clear water shimmering above colourful rocks. There was a lot of stopping and admiring the view on this walk! The cool still air, the warm sun, and the beautiful surroundings, all felt so restorative after a week of battling the wind.
The forecast for the rest of our time here in Kyparissi is good: warm, sunny and dry, so hopefully we will be able to get out and enjoy our visit to this beautiful spot. In 5 days time we start island hopping, and I have my next (and probably final) attempt to climb up a volcano!