Heading east ward we are approaching Olympia, heading up yet another mountain and through the gorge we finally even out and hit some flat road. Olive trees, fruit trees particularly oranges you smell the pollen in the air, with the warm climate it is ideal here with so many fruit stalls on the road sides. Strawberries some being the size of plums, apples and pears. It’s that season again and you can’t go wrong buying locally and supporting the small players. They make bloody good red wine too!
Arriving into Olympia we park in the local town, make our way in you start to look around and just think why here? What significance did this place hold back 2 thousand years ago, certainly nothing I could see and this place is no where near any major city. Tickets paid and we wander in, half expecting to see a big stadium in front of me. Well not quite like that but this place was massive with ruins every where, when this was fully operational it would of been one hell of a sight. Alot of the buildings were temples which included the main one called Temple of Zeus which was one of the main features here, personally the stand out for us because really there’s just too much to single out. The Gymnasium is a 2nd century B.C building that is of an opening area surrounded by stoas, in which athletes trained for running events and the pentathlon. The Paleestra, a square building dating back to 3rd century B.C consist of an open peristyle courtyard with rooms round it. Here athletes would train for wrestling, boxing and jumping. The Stadium, this is where the athletics were held it was 212.54 metres long and 28.50 metres wide, there were no seats just embankments that housed easily 45,000 people. And finally the Temple of Zeus built between 470 and 456 century B.C this was the most important building here in Olympia. The Olympics took shape from 10th century B.C to 426 century B.C the year which the emperor Theodosius II closed all the ancient sanctuaries. This was a major religious, cultural and sporting centre for Greece and the bond that linked motherland Greece with the colonies of the Mediterranean and the Black sea. Pretty fascinating stuff and very cool to be at the starting place for the Olympics we see nowadays held every 4 years, here was the reason and the effort that the Olympics celebrate the incredible athleticism and strength.
Moving onto a spot next to the ocean, we stay at a small port town that is bustling with tourist pouring out of the docking cruise ships, Katakolo. Here free power and parked right onto the water on the wharf, we decide it’s time to chill out and enjoy the beaches. The general feeling is we are abit historied out, seen enough ancient stones and temples and what not. Time for sun rays and salt water! Walking around the village with all sorts of shops selling sculptures, jewellery, clothing and touristy bits and pieces, we pick up 2 wooden cups sculptered like wine glasses that are made of olive wood. We set of with the directions from the shop keeper to where the best access to the beach is, this took a little while to find. But before that just to note before going into the small village port you drive into poor pockets as you approach this place and sad to see, stacks of rubbish everywhere in piles next to the skips or the big wheelie bins. Nothing gets collected here and people resort to burning the piles of rubbish it really is a shame that no system is in place to sort it out, but once in the area’s where tourist come, immaculate.
So upon driving around small dinky roads with dead snakes on the road. Wait, Snakes! Crikey I didn’t even think of snakes but I do now and even more cautious wading through longer grass! We hit a sweet little cul-de-sac. Surrounded by over grown grass and trees to look out onto the small little beach we basically have to ourselves. Well! turns out this little parking spot is a spot for a little dabbling in debauchery of fornication! drive in and two cars parked, one of them a couple getting all hot and randy we seem to catch them in the act with myself quite awkwardly turning away as I drove right next to them! We find a park near the French people at the opposite end of their campervan. Well to confirm my initial thoughts, the lady done and drives off in her flash sports car with the man geting into his box off up the road! That’s not the only case either! Another couple getting hot and heavy in the corner whilst we read our books, ah bliss just another raunchy Monday afternoon, do some work will ya!.
Nothing like a good poo with the view!
So the beach, blue turquoise water perfect snorkling conditions hot sunshine and a green lizard chilling on a tree with us and we just chillax for the day. Head back to port and ready ourselves for another long drive to Lefkada beach as close as an island we can do with The Green Machine.
Long drive up the west coast of Greece we plan to stay at Lefkada beach, basically an island if you took away the bridge to it. Here we base ourselves for two nights in a campsite surrounded by olive trees, the following day would see us at the most recommended beach here. Ag. Nikitas on the west coast of Lefkada lies the perfect spot to park the Green Machine up and soak up rays for the entire day. Supremely clear waters calm and bugger all people, you can’t beat it really this is what it’s all about, sitting back and sear away at our pasty white skins.
We treat ourselves to lunch at the village of this beach eating traditional Greek food, entrée being a big bowl of fresh greek salad, I had mousakka and Karen pork souvlaki washing it back with some primo local red wine. I have to confess I enjoy the local small bottled reds than the big well known brands, you just under estimate how good these wines really are. Back to the beach and soaking up sunshine and dipping in the really salty Ioanian sea, that would serve up a pretty choice as day, solar heated shower that I chucked up ontop of the van works a treat, be surprised how far 20 litres gets you. Last night at the port and we will endeavour to cross some intimidating mountains to Karditsa.
Right camper packed and we set off for Karditsa for a good check over the vehicle at a VW specialist, as said before the camper jerks alot and back firing from both LPG and petrol. After a long drive around the gulf we start heading towards the mountians, now we didn’t know anything about these mountains and decided to take this route as it is alot quicker than going up north then down south or down south and back up north, so basically adding on a few hours.
Scenic wise it would have to be described as stunning, the peaks just effortlessly soar up reducing you to a stunned observer. So far so good and we are getting quite high, the drop offs make for some interesting views! First tunnel approached driving into a black out, no lights on in here! Interesting but the lights on the camper will do. 6 or so tunnels and they were all pitch black, some your climbing with pot holes you obviously see too late and we drive in these tunnels with only one car coming past, not well used route it seemed! Some of the tunnels going into these mountains lasted 3 minutes! So once we reached the top we decide to let The Green Machine cool down and have some lunch.
Coming down was a relief to just get out of this range, but what is so interesting is that people make it home up here, villages perched on steep mountain sides, fresh springs dotted around the village that everyone comes with a bottle to get their share of mineral water. 80% down this mountain and I feel the brakes a bit too spongey, deciding to slow down and I use them again and nothing, pumping nothing but air we got no breaks. Remember the drop offs I wrote about, yeah their on this side too! Karen visibly shocked and grabs a glass of wine, I suggest lets sit tight here in gear hand break on we not going anywhere. We look to see if we should get towed out or just rest for 20 or 30 minutes. Well 30 minutes later and I turn her on and check the breaks, working! They can get hot and we just needed to sit tight and let the girl cool down. Heading off the range I take it cautiously around the bends. Approaching the flat open valley and it is a sigh of relief, Approach Karditsa and booked an appointment with VW for the morning. Find a site to freedom camp.
Driving around to park for the night we asked a few locals if it’s ok to park on their patch of grass, one lot pointing to a direction not being sure if it’s even their land. So looking around I asked another gentleman if it’s ok to park and said no problem come park here. 30 minutes later he comes over with a bag of 6 fresh hard boiled eggs and a loaf of fresh bread as a gift, what a thoughtful thing to do! Peaceful night had and we head over to his house and shake his hand and thank him ever so much for his hospitality, it is clear that just simply asking and being polite as we have so far on this trip does you a world of good.
At the specialist and we endure a 3 hour wait for someone to finally check out the camper, oil change complete along with a check on suspension, brakes and jerking with the back firing as well. Front bearings potentially need replacing with him turning the wheel for us, we didn’t hear anything but will look to replace fairly soon, doing it here would require a 1 week wait! All paid for, which was really cheap for what they did. Drive off and The Green Machine is running smoothly we set off for Meteora.
Heading towards Meteora you see in the distance through the hot hazy sky the rocks shooting up with buildings sitting atop the highest point, here are some of Greece’s oldest Monasteries. We park for a free night near the monasteries and set up camp. Heading up to the first monastery we visit Agia Triada this monastery sitting elegantly on top of the rock seems to me the most impressive, they all in some way look spectacular but this one is on a narrow rock piece with the stairway carved into the rock around the side with 140 steep steps to what is a stunning viewpoint. This monastery has been around since the 1400’s and was a place of worship for dedicated monks. The small little church up top is very artistic and with ornate sculptures. Moving on and we visit Agios Stefanos this was built early 1400’s and the only monastery visible from Kalambaka town, its quite an impressive sight looking around all the pinnacle type rock features with various monasteries built atop. It’s quite a cool sight and a must see if you ever get the chance.
Our time is nearing an end in Greece, our final stop next to the lake in Ioannina it has been one hell of a trip and quicker than we would have liked to have gone through, hard work on the Green Machine and an unknown going into Albania. Greece is such a massive country and when you factor in all the islands you need to allow alot of time, it’s been an epic trip to do when mixing history, archeological, geographical, wine, beaches and good Greek food it’s no wonder this place is a favourite tourist attraction. Amongst all the turmoil with Greece’s economy ignore the media in terms of safety and the turmoil they harp on about, the locals have been nothing short of accommodating, super friendly and are extremely helpful.