Tag Archives: Museums

Greece is the word

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I wasn’t sure what to expect from Greece: my vision of it having been formed by films like Shirley Valentine and posters of Santorini. So the reality was somewhat to the left of centre as regards my expectations. Obviously, to start with it looked exactly like Albania (well, duh, I was ten minutes across the border), but I couldn’t see a single white building with a domed roof and a blue doorway, under a searing sun. I was, frankly, shocked.

Where were the legendarily horny and handsome Greek waiters? Wasn’t this the land of the holiday romance? Shouldn’t there be a Taverna on every corner? And how come I travelled for days and never once heard a Bazouki player?

Perhaps it was just the difference between summer Greece and autumn Greece? Or between island and mainland Greece? Between Shirley sodding Valentine’s Greece and the bits that I found?

No. It was that I was looking for the wrong thing.

What makes this crumbly little corner of Europe special….. is the people – their generosity, helpfulness, and hospitality. Now, I am a smiley person, and Steve likes to talk to strangers (his preference veering strongly towards waiters and check-out girls), so we are used to a certain amount of reciprocal friendliness, but in Greece – well, this was on a whole new level.

As we’d been driving all day like maniacs, to get away from the maniac drivers in Albania, we stopped fairly soon after arriving in Greece. There was a nice looking roadside restaurant with a massive, almost empty, car park in front. We pulled in and asked if we could stay there for the night if we ate in the restaurant. Of course, no problem, come in, have a drink.

We ate the best meal we’d had in ages, and learned how to say hello, and a few other things, from a large family at the next table. They told us what was best to order (the lamb chops, butchered on the premises). The son kept dashing over to a laptop on the counter and finding traditional Greek music for us to listen to (and, ok, he started with the theme to Zorba the Greek, but that was actually surreally good in the circumstances). The dad sent over a local dessert (on his bill) for us to try (grapes in syrup, nom nom) and then they invited us to their table and plied us with wine. Utter sweethearts.

In the morning I awoke to a strange sound. Outside was an enclosure full of turkeys, free-ranging it like anything. I took a picture and they all rushed towards me thinking that I’d come to feed them. I figured if we stayed another day, it would more likely end up the other way around. So I felt guilty and we left.

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As travellers on a budget, we can’t really afford to cover the distances we do and pay tolls on the roads. This leads to us taking the long way around most of the time. We don’t mind this as the view is usually better, and we get an intensified sense of how people really live in the countries we visit. It can really increase our driving time, though, especially if mountains are involved.

Consequently, it was already dark (and we were both tired, and totally bereft of all concentration and common sense) when Deirdre the Sat-Nav slut took us down another wrong turn. She can be the most almighty cow at times. And that’s where we got stuck. When I say ‘we’ I mean Georgie (our American RV) got stuck, all 34 feet of her, impaled on both sides by low walls as Steve tried to turn a corner.IMG_6646

A guy on a bicycle helped us for a bit, and then a chap on a motorbike arrived and he took charge. First he went home and got his sister who could speak better English, then he directed Steve (carefully, in reverse) off the walls, back up the road, around all the bins, and into a side lane to turn around.

He had other blokes out of their houses helping too. Then he and sis got on the bike, and led us down other (larger) roads until we got back on the main road again. Said it was his pleasure to help us.

Now that we’ve been in Greece for several weeks we know that this is perfectly normal.

IMG_6653In Patras we found a little restaurant called Labyrinthos, which sounded properly traditional – no more schnitzel for me! The waiter suggested the baby goat cooked slowly in olive oil and oregano, which was so good I wanted to marry it and have its babies.

His mother was the cook and used old family recipes – Labyrinthos had been started by his grandfather. He spent ages showing us all the places in the Peloponnese that we should visit, and gave us a free dessert and a home-made liquor.

A few weeks later we fetched up at ancient Corinth. Lots of ruins, and an incredibly hard to say Isthmus. Same story, though – people going out of their way to help us. At Corinth we were unable to find the campsite as Deirdre was sulking and telling us we were already there, which is sat-nav for ‘Bog off, I’m tired’. And the signs were even less helpful. So we parked in a big car park and went off to find it on foot.

An old chap was there, so Steve pointed to Georgie and mimed, ‘is it ok for us to park here? Will we get in trouble with the police?’ At the word ‘police’ the guy burst out laughing. ‘Where you from?’ he said. England. ‘Well, this is Greece.’

Then he took us to see his mate at a local restaurant; did he know where the campsite was? No, but he knew who might, and then all the guys in the restaurant got up, raced over the road, and accosted an old fella doing his shopping. He was the campsite owner (yay) but he only wanted to speak to us in French (he wasn’t French).

He got us to follow him to the site, on his beaten-up old motorbike. He also had a beaten-up old face – with stitches. I wondered if the two were connected and if he’d recently driven in Albania. At the site we met another chap (German, I think) who offered to show us a better route, and said he’d come and fetch us the next day at 9 o,clock and lead the way.

We went to the restaurant that we’d been led to earlier and had the world’s best kebab. This chap gave us a mountain of free stuff – bread, olives (from his tree), coffee, and a plate of mandarin oranges. Lots of very warm handshakes. And then he caught up with us as we staggered down the hill to the car park, as Steve had left his car keys on the table.

The next day he saw Steve in the street and gave him a whole bag of oranges. If we stayed in Greece much longer we reckoned we’d start getting entire meals for free. The next day, a couple staying in the hotel behind the car park gave us the wifi code from the hotel.

Ancient Corinth was great. Loads of it is still standing, including an almost complete street, with shops on either side.

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There were these chaps, caught practicing their moves from the Full Monty dance,

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and some nice pieces in the museum.

Though one of the workers had given up on her sweeping and taken rather a long tea-break, I thought.

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The Corinth canal is worth a quick look, too. Here it is, just before we drove over it multiple times, because Deirdre kept wanting to take us to a non-existent bridge. She gets a bit bride-of-Chucky from time to time.

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On the subject of ruins, we also visited Olympia and Mycenae, but I’ll tell you all about that it my next blog. Thanks for reading, and may this new year bring you all you need and at least some of what you want. xxxx Ciao.

 

 

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Feeding mozzies and finding heaven

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As my friends and regular readers know, my grasp of geography is right up there with my killer dance moves and my ability to ignore cats, i.e. it is almost non-existent. So as we crossed from Hungary into Croatia, I had no idea what to expect. I knew Dubrovnik was further south, and was the setting for Kings Landing in Game of Thrones, but that was pretty much it. I must admit, I quite like travelling this way – letting each town, country, or culture take me by surprise (the first surprise always being unfamiliar and incomprehensible road signs). I like the days of waiting, and watching, while the subtle differences reveal themselves and after a bit I can say, ‘Ah, that is typical of Budapest/Almerimar/the Somme’. So come on, Croatia, bring it on.

Our first stops were a series of truck stops on the outskirts of Zagreb. Although this meant deploying the old memory foam earplugs again, it also meant freedom from the mosquitos that hung around the nice, tree-filled campsites of an evening. I’m told that being blood type ‘O’ is more attractive to the bitey little bastards, and this is both unfortunate and true: Steve and I share that group and we have both been bitten as lumpy as the Alps. I also have another theory: using the idea that you are what you eat, (and taking into consideration that I’ve lived in Bath for the past ten years) – I reckon that on a cellular level I am a good 75% gin and tonic. Furthermore, as an utterly hormonal woman, I imagine the other 25% is probably reconstructed chocolate. If I was a midge, I would bite me.

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The capital of Croatia is a very nice little city: buzzy and interesting without being too big. Apart from the red-umbrella’d Dolac market (with its statue of Kumica Barica – the spirit of the farmer’s market) there was an artisan market that filled the main square. Here, among other things, you could get an umbrella made to order by the most hard-working women I saw all day, and then a nice lady would paint flowers on it for you.

After stuffing our faces on samples of mortadella, cheese, fresh figs, sourdough bread and blackcurrant jam, we took a turn around the pretty cathedral.  After more pootling around we wandered into a brilliant art exhibition – the work of Hungary’s most prolific artist, Vasko Lipovac. It’s hard to put into words the wit and brilliance of his work. My best description would be imagine if Beryl Cook had just gone dogging….

Here’s what I mean.

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His most impressive piece, Cyclus, was housed in a long room and featured a sculpted cycle race in all its agony and glory. Each figure was an individual, with its own expression and sense of story. Bloody marvellous.Vasko-Lipovac-Retrospektiva-01-nh2s0ffhsjyyoe2gkntnf42u0ai0anvpjjex4566gw

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Zagreb is also home to the sweet, but odd, Museum of Broken Relationships. Each willingly donated exhibit told a story of love and loss, or humour, or horror. Someone had left an axe, which suggested a relationship well past fixing. This was also a bit chilling.

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I went to the loo and found that it, too, had a broken relationship – to its door lock. And although it clearly said ‘Women’ in numerous languages, a man was standing there peeing, with the door wide open. When he saw me, he carried on as if he expected me to use the gents. Er, no. So I waited, and then he made a huge fuss of clearing up after him which actually consisted of him not clearing up anything at all. I just hoped he hadn’t come back for his axe.

Just around the corner the road curved under the Stone Gate, and someone had decided that this was the perfect place to build a tiny church. On either side of the road. Under an overhang.

On the inner side of the curve, two wooden pews perched on the pavement, with people genuinely sitting there praying whilst motorbikes whizzed past, and tourists gawped. On the outer side of the curve, an almost invisible statue of the Virgin was hidden behind huge, wrought iron gates. The walls surrounding them were covered in plaques saying thank you, mostly. In front of the pews a lady scraped melted candle wax into three huge tubs on the ground.

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There was actually a Burger Festival happening in one of the parks which Steve decided to avoid – more fallout from living in Bath for ten years, I suspect. Instead we headed up to the Cemetery, because it was nearly dusk and we needed to be bitten some more. And, to be fair, the place is utterly spectacular, and I’ve always rather liked graveyards.

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CAMPSITES

Bugs notwithstanding, once we’d headed off to the coast it was time to find a campsite again. So we did what we usually do, which is to look in books and on the internet, get as much info as we can, try and phone ahead if possible, and then find out that all of that has been a complete waste of our time. And what we usually do (when we turn up at another ‘closed’ sign, get stuck down an impossible to navigate road, or are met by the campsite owner telling us that, yes, he knows it’s a 35% hill on the way in, but he’s sure we can manage it, despite the hairpin as it joins the road) is ask somebody.

We were directed to the north end of the island of Pag, the countryside of which is known by its proper term – THE ARSE END OF NOWHERE! But it was worth it because it led to the wonderful Camping Simuni. This place had everything, and I mean everything. For a start, it was all landscaped beautifully – lots of interestingly decorated corners, so that if you got lost you’d know that you turned left by the old row boat and anchor, and right by the bougainvillea covered hammock. And as for amenities, forget a couple of shower blocks and a rarely open reception – this place had an onsite supermarket, a fish restaurant, a burger joint, a takeaway, at least three bars, a pizza joint, a traditional restaurant, several shops of souvenirs and water sport equipment, a laundry, a kid’s club, a spa and yoga room, and it was right on the beach. We literally got to park right on the beach. In a thunderstorm. Fantastic. Sitting there after a long drive, eating pizza and watching it sheet down to the horizon. The next day we bought a snorkel; that’s how great it was.

And, as it turned out, all the campsites on the Croatian coast are pretty much like this. Seriously worth being bitten for. Our next site parked us just back from the beach but right next to the cafe. I could wander out each evening and the barman would line up a gin and tonic (so that I could keep up with the deficit caused by the mozzies), and then sit back and watch the sunset, followed by the awakening and swooping of the bats. This was the view from Georgie.

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THE SEA ORGAN

We popped into Zadar to check out the Sea Organ. This is pretty much how it sounds – an organ built into the sea wall, so that the water rushing down the pipes creates the sounds, the way that air would in a traditional organ. Each combination of strange, mournful, lowing bellows is utterly unique.

I had a good listen despite the fact that, as familiarity breeds contempt, so the Sea Organ has become the place for the locals to gather and gossip. Loudly. I had to shut my eyes and really focus, especially as I have dyslexic ears. No, really, it’s a thing. My doctor said. I hear perfectly well but my brain can’t be arsed to translate it properly. So I struggle if there is background (or, as in this case, foreground) noise. Doc advised learning to lip-read.

As for the organ, they got some special expert in to tune it, and although I don’t know what it sounded like before he did that, I would say that it’s possible he was overpaid.

NEXT TIME

After Zadar we trollied off down to Split and the wonder that is Dubrovnik. I’ll fill you in as soon as I get reliable wifi again. Ciao folks, thanks for reading.