16.05.2014 - 23.05.2014 30 °C
The Eastern Peloponnese reminds me of the East Coast of New Zealand – gorse, broom and thistles. The Central Peloponnese reminds me of the West Coast – it rained while we were there. These areas in both countries are mountainous and quite spectacular. All are worthy of a visit – but the Peloponnese option will need a GPS to find your way around. This is, not surprisingly, because all the road signs are in Greek and for added confusion the place names change at the whim of the signwriter. Few people that I know who have visited Greece have ventured into the large part south of Athens. This is where Ancient Olympus is located. Lots have sailed around the Peloponnese on their Mediterranean Cruises – they would have seen a lovely rugged coastline and picturesque Greek ports and villages – that is if they weren’t busy in the ships restaurant, beauty spa or casino.
We travel everywhere with a GPS (SatNav) these days. We were probably the original early adopters of this technology after Flypaper, in 1994, failed to orientate her map and we missed 2 countries. Now I have a melodic soothing navigator who never says, “Take me to the nearest bus stop”. You can imagine my surprise when I turned on our GPS at Athens airport expecting to hear dulcet tones – and it spoke to me in rapid Mandarin with a very stern tone. I’m very partial to an occasional Chinese meal but a strident Chinese woman telling me continually to do a U turn is not my idea of an agreeable travel companion. My attempts to reprogram were in vain. The machine is now oriental – and out of warranty.
Plan B was to convince the clerk at the rental car company that Flypaper had ordered a sporty vehicle complete with GPS – neither of which he was indicating on the booking form. The guy smirked as if he had heard these stories before and I suspected I may need to prompt Flypaper to produce tears. We compromised. He hired us a Toyota and charged us a token 10 Euro fee for the gadget that would maintain marital bliss for the next 9 days – after that it would be back to the challenge. You may think we did well – I don’t. Toyota used to make some excellent cars. In recent years they have chosen the easy uncomplaining market – the sedate and stolid who believe everything they read. Think about it. If you happily drive a modern Toyota you will be by nature serene and possibly dignified. If you drive a Toyota and hate it, that’s because someone influential of placid or sedentary nature convinced you it would be a good buy – and reliable. If you hate your Toyota you should convince your influencing handbrake you should buy an Alfa Romeo. A few years ago in Italy I saw 2 groups of Nuns racing each other in Alfa’s. What better roll model than a Nun?
The Toyota we were made to suffer just to get a GPS would be suitable for someone who is anesthetized. Ladies pushing prams passed us going up hills. Coming down again the electronic stability control made a raucous noise and applied the brakes. However … many years ago I started to carry a multitool on our travels. Usually this repairs hotel plumbing, air-conditioning, etc … and is handy for removing stones from horses hooves. On one occasion it mended a woman’s garment that she referred to as her ‘suspension aid’. This tool has multiple features that enabled me to disable the Toyota ESC and the sensor that told it not to rev past 3,000rpm. Now Flypaper is saying the countryside looks blurry.
Our nights at Argos were interesting. This was the first of two weekends voting in the local then national elections. Saturday night was amazing. The whole town was buzzing with families and people of all ages socializing until way after we gave up observing. Sunday night was even more astonishing as there were outside broadcast television interviewers in strategic places to intercept and interview the opinionated. Every restaurant and bar had a large TV set up and everyone was following the results as they flowed in from all over the country. The total population must have been on the streets. The big surprise was that the local mayors and political candidates were picking up the bills at the bars. This encouraged attendance and increased drinking which in turn added to loud opinion. It was also a factor in attracting a large voting percentage – worth trying at home. In spite of the uproar we retired about midnight – but were woken at 1.30am by what sounded like an invasion. My first thought was, “The Russians have come back for their money”. My second thought was, “The multitool is unlikely to help this time”. In spite of the horrendous noise and the building shaking, Flypaper complained that she needed to use the toilet I was hiding in. I reached a deal – if she looked out the window to check we weren’t under direct fire, I would move to the wardrobe. When she checked she discovered that we were being entertained by a huge fireworks display. The launch site was outside our widow and the explosions immediately above. At breakfast we learned that traditionally the winning mayor pays for the show. I’m starting to appreciate how Greece fell from being a leading power to a leader of the bankrupt PIGS fraternity.
At this hotel, our host would have been at least 15 years my senior – but he insisted on carrying Flypapers suitcase up to our second floor room. This suitcase is nicknamed, ‘Widow maker’ as it has bought on numerous heart attacks. Not only did this scrawny weakling achieve his goal, he rushed back and took my bag from the resting place halfway up. He must be an Olympian. At breakfast I chose the Greek Yogurt and added Olives to my scrambled eggs.
That healthy body building choice was fortunate. My selection for lunch in a dockside café on the coast was their Sunday special – the only one that didn’t include a Greek salad. Roast pork – one of my favorites. The serving however was suitable for a family of 5. It was enormous and delicious. To my chagrin, I was unable to finish it – then to completely ruin the day, was compelled to stop the car halfway home for a short nap. The only thing that distracted from my distress was Flypaper spotting a tortoise on the side of the road. (We had seen a few of these). However, when I reversed to take a snap – it turned out to be a rock. My pride was saved by the only thing in Greece that moves slower than a tortoise or a Toyota.
As we tour through remote mountain regions seldom visited by anyone except ancient shepherds with hooked sticks, we see all sorts of things. Energy producing plants are usually in remote high places. Coal fired power stations, wind power generators and increasingly, photovoltaic power generation all seems to occur up in the mountains. When Flypaper asked me why, I was able to tell her that’s because the electricity can run downhill to the towns without using pumps. She thought that was pretty smart – until she shared this knowledge with someone else who suggested she have me jabbed with hot poker.
There cannot be many people drown in Greek rivers during summer. You may suspect that is perhaps because the Greeks have an inflated opinion of their intelligence which could provide added buoyancy or, maybe there’s a law against accidents as in my homeland. I would however, advance the theory that it’s because there is no water in the rivers. With very few exceptions, even in spring, the rivers are totally dry. I think many only flow during the snow melt when swimming is not a preferred activity.
In spring the countryside is a riot of colour. The variegated new shoots and colourful blossom on trees, myriad wildflowers - and graffiti. The towns and cities have riots of another nature and they also have graffiti. This was an Italian concept which has existed in Greece since ancient times. In fact the word comes from the Greek graphi which means ‘to write’. If you see only one design that is graffito (singular) – that is very rare here in Greece where the plural Graffiti is arguably their best art form. I certainly like it better than the marble carving which always seems to be missing critical components like arms and heads. While it is sadly true that many graffito deface attractive things, here in Greece, if you look carefully, they enhance some pretty old worn out surfaces.
We spent two nights in the city that became synonymous with severe austerity - Sparta. The city is no longer Spartan … but our hotel room was. For example, a mattress on top of the timber frame would have been nice. I suggested to our host that it was time to let go, move on, get with the times. However he considered it a completely different concept associated with profitability. Spartacus would by spinning in his tomb. This could have been avoided if we had a better education. I have since learned that admiration for the Spartans even has a name, Laconophilia. The name of our hotel was the ‘Larconia’.
Another Spartan trait that lingers is the quality of the restaurants. Around 650BC a Sybarite, who ate at a public food house in Sparta, once famously remarked: "Now I know why the Spartans do not fear death." It was after our meal was served that I felt the same quote had modern application.
I have mentioned previously about the double white lines on the road being used as another lane. The same Spartan guy who gave me a brief lesson in Greek believed that it was OK to drive in the centre so long as only two wheels went over the lines. Any more than two is liable to generate rude gestures from other drivers and even the attention of the police – but only if you have an accident. This is the sort of advanced thinking that once made Greece the leading power in the world.
Another observation while driving are the young mothers strolling down the narrow borderless roads behind a pushchair. I suspect they are practicing the ancient pagan tradition of child sacrifice. Mothers, think about this next time you push your child onto the pedestrian crossing.
We had a coffee in a seafront Café that smelt and looked like it may have been an afterhour Opium den. Flypaper fell into conversation with a woman who appeared to me was recruiting for the local branch of the Witches Union. She told Flypaper in Greeklish about the ingredients that may have been required to cast a nasty spell. It transpired that it was a lesson on how to make face and body cream using natural local ingredients. Pulp some aloe vera, add honey and olive oil together with some ground lavender and flower petals. I didn’t feel comfortable about asking her where she personally applied this concoction, but from what I could see, she may, if the wind was in the right direction, only be successful in attracting bees.
For many years Flypaper has been hunting down and purchasing Kalamata olives. On arrival in that city she was disappointed to discover that their much lauded and widely exported products were decidedly inferior to many others we had been served. She was inclined to agree with me when I suggested the Kalamata Olives were comparable to marinated goats droppings. I hasten to add, in the interests of international trade relations, that I am referring to a very good breed of goat.