April - we take the car to Greece to ready Selkie Dancer for the coming season - Jinti takes up the tale
How utterly blissful it is to emerge from a building and into the sunlight and the warmth of a Greek Saturday.
It seems extraordinary that a week ago we were taking our leave of Nick, Emma and the boys (darling snotty boys, you left gifts with me as ever!).
A ferry was booked from Dover to Calais and a hotel in Reims and that was it. The drive to the ferry was uneventful and the sight of Dover brought to mind Bill Bryson’s description of the rain filled, soggy streets and gloomy boarding house landladies that greeted his arrival in UK. Anyway as we left the white cliffs behind us we were enjoying lunch in the restaurant and before we knew it we were in France and driving the two and a half hours to Reims where we had booked into the Best Western Hotel de la Paix. Oh! The glorious luxury of it! Just my sort of resting place. An unexpected knock on the door and it was room service with a bottle of champagne, my cup runneth over. What a lovely surprise, thank you Nick and Emma x.
So we left that chilling nicely and set off on a walk around Reims, marvelling at the Hunky Punks (go on look it up, but don’t blame me for the consequences!) that jutted out from the cathedral. They were images to stimulate nightmares. Back in our room we ordered some food, drank the champagne and indulged in everything celebrating Andy’s birthday the next day.
The next day’s drive through northern France was monotonous in its minimalist mono bloc of shapes and colours. Vast areas cut sharp at the horizon by the sky and broken occasionally by the silhouette of a line of trees or a rush of wind turbines. Then the landscape gave way to folds and heights, woods and little villages tucked neatly here and there. Finally we wound our way up the mountains and through the tunnel of Mont Blanc to the massive towering Alps rearing up in front of us pristine in their snow covering. We spent the night in Aosta and the next day, after leaving pretty little alpine villages, we once again found ourselves travelling across a wide plain, this time ugly and industrial - 21st century. Arriving in Rimini we found Letitzia’s flat and her son, Giacomo, welcomed us and looked after us until we saw the weary figure of Letitzia, nursing her tooth, coming up the road. It was lovely to see her and then to go out to dance with her class and lead some tracks, fantastic. The following day we explored the harbour marina and centre of Rimini and went on to visit the republic of San Marino – well I had never heard of this place but it is the world’s smallest republic, has crazy drivers and is situated in about 6 sq km, most of it castles perched high up on rocky outcrops. Looking south west from here was wonderful. The landscape revealed, in crisp clear air as if our glasses had just been washed clean, was bright compared to the murky haze on the north, the industrial side. To the south we saw lush, green, valleys, rivers, forests and hills stretching out towards Florence.
The next day we set off in what we thought was oodles of time to get to Ancona 2 hours before the ferry departure at 1330. Once safely on the route we checked the time of arrival on TomTom and were horrified to find it showing 1300! - Could we really be that Italian/Greek and rock up with half an hour to spare? It does not sit comfortably with me so I drove carefully but at the top of the speed limit. We were confused, how we could have messed up our timings so, and then more muddled when the exit to Ancona North came up an hour early. Duh!!! Inadvertently the return journey Rimini/Ancona had been selected. All was well, blood pressure returned to normal and recriminations were withdrawn.
I’ve never been on a ferry journey for more than a couple of hours before – ooh, this was fun! - Restaurant, shops, bar, coffee lounge, all very snaz and a swimming pool? Well no, that was empty and in danger of becoming ‘pool fill’ Once I’d got over my images of great ocean liner disaster movies and thoughts of the Titanic I settled down to enjoy my journey. The cabin, we were led importantly to it by a steward, was wonderfully comfy and had all we needed, glad to see the life jackets. She took so long loading that we left half an hour late and then, before we’d even cleared the harbour walls, there was a call over the tannoy asking if there was a doctor on board. We returned to our docking place, an ambulance was waiting and all I could think of was ‘how on earth will they get the person’s car off?’ They were all so jam packed in the car deck.
The next morning we arrived in Igoumenitsa – Spat out from the belly of the ferry and straight onto the E90 that snakes across the north of Greece to Thessaloniki. Tolls are usual on the French and Italian auto routes and here also, but sometimes they didn’t quite work as expected. Warnings of toll booths ahead turned out to be an ongoing project as, slowing down to pay our dues we realised that something was missing, the booths themselves! After about an hour we turned south, all was the sharp green leaf of spring, the sun was shining, the air warm. Down the tortuous narrow road we could see for miles to extraordinary lumps of rock in a wider valley far beyond. The windows were down; we could hear the birds twittering away in the quivering white and pink blossoms and we were getting hotter and hotter. The lumps turned out to be the Meteora, not the large area I had imagined but these vast pinnacles of what looked like solid concrete and perched at the top, monasteries, they quite dominated the little town of Kalambaka where we stopped to shed our winter skins and don lighter apparel. We ate sandwiches in a field and drove on, now in a wide vast plain. Then we were here and welcomed by Zacharius, Karina and Doinysus.
The journey that has taken us seven years by boat has taken seven days by car!
Grass is never Greener!
I had thought that not being able to use the loo or the kitchen sink and having limited space would be a bit much to bear for 10 or more days so I had resolved to find a room with a small kitchen. Karina phoned someone in the village and it was arranged that I would go and see the room Karina drew one of her famous maps on a post-it note. No street name, no house number, only little squares that represented in turn, the Lotto shop, the souvlaki shop, an empty space, a very old house and finally she said pointing to yet another square ‘the house, the one with the roof on, this is the house of Eleni’.
So I went there and found Eleni, the view was magnificent looking over to the mountains of Evia. It was certainly basic, 2 beds, two chairs, a plastic table, a fridge that didn’t fit into the tiny kitchen (misnomer – a small room with a sink and some cupboards) no means of cooking, a loo with very basic shower and dodgy electrics everywhere. I don’t know what I was thinking. I thought I could make it work. They did move a gas burner into the kitchen but it was one that should be used outside and flared up alarmingly in the confined space. We found it almost impossible to work the metal shutters that revealed the only saving grace - the light and the wonderful view. We brought in some essentials and gingerly turned on the heating for the water, the water tank began to drip, not a good sign. I felt depressed. Why were we here? Why had I abandoned Selkie Dancer? We spent a fitful night listening to the increasingly determined dripping which, gathering speed, splashed vigorously onto the loo and surrounding areas. The morning after the night before! We’ve all been there! What had I done?! Will you still love me? I came to my senses, horrified at having betrayed, been unfaithful to, Selkie Dancer. I had been tempted to do a moonlit flit but had to be grown up and face the lady. So the car was packed, I rang her bell to announce a “megalo problemma” She came down and I pointed out all the faults, she kept repeating all could be fixed in two minutes but no, I’d made up my mind. Relieved to have retrieved some of my deposit we left. Oh the relief and the unbounded joy (sorry but it did feel like that) I was delirious with happiness all day to return to the arms of our micro spitaki on stilts.
Now we have cleared up the saloon, put systems in place (I like systems) and I cannot think how I could have been so bonkers. All our comforts are around us.
Visit to Evia. However you want to spell it Evvia, Euboia. This is something that we find a problem – variation in spelling. However that is beside the point, we are to have a day off and go across the old Evripos bridge into Chalkis. We parked and looked over at the swirling tide that changes direction 7 times a day and today was fighting with the wind. And we remembered how we came through last year at night with people lining the sides as we passed. We checked out where the port police were, ready to do this trip again in a few weeks time and then stopped to fill up. You say “stuff it” for fill her up! Well he seemed to understand. Then with charming Greek curiosity he proceeded to interrogate us, “where are we from? where are we going? Oh no we couldn’t possibly go there, far too touristy (what are we?) and too expensive, No! we must go to Kambia. Just before we arrive in Steni, don’t go straight on, take the road to the right and along there you will find a wonderful restaurant and beautiful little chapel” So with these vague directions, many overshoots, wrong turns, simply not seeing the place and a good few hours later we found the place that he intended. We did have a great meal and saw the little chapel, walls on two sides of a cave with a gurgling stream at one side.
Delphi is a most magical deep green place. It sits in the foothills of Mount Parnassus and looks down onto the blue of the Gulf of Corinth. The bare rubbly rock face high above is tinged orange; there is plentiful water, as many shades and shapes of green as you can imagine; trees and shrubs hanging over water, others piercing through, tall and narrow and at this time of year, and the wild flowers are abundant, yellows, pinks, reds, whites. In ancient times Zeus released two eagles from opposite ends of the world to find the centre. They met here and so a centre of pilgrimage began and developed in complexity and sophistication. However none of the temples or treasuries that were built during its heyday would have existed at the time that Tyndareus, led his wife Leda, their children Clytemnestra, Helen, Castor and Pollux to the Oracle to find out what was in store for him and his kingdom. On their way up the path, sitting on an old rock was an equally ancient and vulture like crone, the Sibyl. She went crazy when she saw Helen screaming that she would be the ruin of Asia, the ruin of Europe and that because of her many Greeks would die. Poor Helen, what a weight of responsibility to bear on her shoulders for the rest of her life, what a curse to be so beautiful! Oh and how easy to blame a woman!
16 April 2013
Dover road kill or cycles waiting for the ferry ?
Andy in a picture postcard republic - San Marino
Rimini - Nia sisters - Jinti and Letitzia
Off the Albanian coast waiting for our first sight of Greece and former anchorages.
Metora, Toyota and Jintora
Spitaki on stilts - the greenest grass !
Delphi from on high
not the Oracle !