Friday, 23 October 2015

Muriel's Mystery Tour or through the Hellenic Boondocks

Wednesday, 21st October

It rained overnight, not just a little pitter patter, but a steady thrum, with occasional van shaking gusts and the harbour swell, a few feet away slopping about like an overfilled bucket. I know this because, as my nearest and dearest old McDonalded her way through slumber, I lay wide awake listening to the thunder. We woke marooned in in a Caspian sized puddle, though extensive, it was shallow, and as I bravely leapt into its tepid waters in search of a litter bin, my trusty crocs filled up like a sieve. A rude awakening.

Today should have been straightforward: drive towards Pilos, deciding when we got close whether to stay at the Camperstop by the Marina or park at the beautiful bay of Voidhikilia a few kilometres to the north. Straightforward, however, is not a Greek characteristic: I wonder even, if they have a word for it.

By the time we set off there was a break in the showers. Overnight the Musica had been replaced by a more modestly sized cruise ship flying the red ensign with the words Saga written in curly script on the funnel. I wonder what the rain soaked army of elderly British Daily Mail readers will make of Praxiteles' Hermes, resplendent in his youthful nakedness? I wonder what sense they make of any of the classical remains, or if they trail around the wonders dutifully, busy comparing ailments and complaining about the litter.

We headed back towards Pirgos. On the southern outskirts we stopped at a set of traffic lights. Right next to the road, in a scruffy lay-by, a few beat-up looking pick-up trucks were parked. Their craggy owners stood around next to small wire cages containing poultry and rabbits. One enterprising farmer had rigged up a small pen. It was packed with lambs all looking nursery rhyme cute. A young women dressed in Lycra seemed to be haggling to buy one. The lights changed to green, so I never did discover if she jogged home with it on a string, or if the farmer dispatched Mary's lamb there and then.

The road south towards Kyparissia is well made, not too potholed and with a hard shoulder that allows you to pull across to let faster traffic overtake. I had noticed a Mercedes on my tail for miles. Of course he decided to wait to a narrower section on a series of S bends to make his move. With a peep on his horn he started to pull past. The truck coming towards us did not bother to slow down, confident in the inborn Greek male stunt driving skills. What made this commonplace near death experience especially memorable was the vehicle screaming past us was a gleaming silver grey hearse. As the driver nipped-in deftly a mere couple of feet in front of us, all the floral tributes slid-off the coffin and piled up against the side windows. I remarked to Gill, that it was the first time we had ever been overtaken by an undertaker.

Generally the road was empty, a lovely drive through wooded country with occasional glimpses of the sea. All went well until somewhere near Filiatra Muriel mysteriously deviated from the main route 9 and took us down some minor roads next to the sea. This interesting diversion was not immediately obvious as on the whole Greek signposts don't bother with numbers. So it's not always clear which is the main, and which the secondary route.

Pete, "Any idea where we are?" Gill, "Yes, on a road that's not shown on the map..."
It soon became obvious as the road deteriorated into a single track, wandering among the olive groves, past half abandoned  villages. The older residents stopped, and scrutinised us as if we were visiting aliens. We were truly, as my American acquaintances might say, in the boondocks. The boonies is one of those great American slang words whose British equivalent - the back of beyond - doesn't quite have the same ring.

The 'boonies!'
Eventually the expanse of Navarino bay, ringed with grey islands, opened up in front of us. It is one of the great natural harbours of the Eastern Mediterranean, somewhat inexplicably it has not developed as a major port. Pirgos at the eastern end of the bay is a modest little place, beautifully situated, with pleasant cafés, a shady quayside square, and the ruins of an ancient fortress on the bluff above the town. In sunny weather the view must be fabulous. Even on a cloudy day like today it is impressive. We decided to spend the night here, rather than at the more remote beachside stop nearby, which, with storms forecast seemed a little too exposed.

The main square, Pilos.

Sreep climb to the castle; it was closed.
Good view, PYO rosemary.
A young Dutch couple stopped beside us in this tiny campervan - cosy!
This beautiful old yawl was from Delaware - now that IS a journey!
It was not really walking weather, we are definitely fine weather hikers. Nevertheless, we donned cagouls and headed towards the castle. We arrived about 15 minutes after it shut. Gill did manage to pick some rosemary growing beside the track up to the castle. The vegetable shop in the village supplied some dill, Kalamata olives and local lemons. The result that evening was one of Gill's culinary triumphs - chicken marinaded in lemon and dill served up with last of the Charlotte spuds we brought from home. She had oven roasted these in local olive oil with rosemary and garnished them with Kalamata olives. The result, to use the term so beloved by Greg and John on 'Masterchef,' was delicious, and really went well the the bottle of Macedonian white wine we had bought earlier in Zaharro.


After dark I read a bit about Piros and the surrounding area in the Rough Guide. For a small place it's seen a lot of history. The castle was mentioned by Thucydides as the place where Athenian forces attacked a Spartan army camped on the nearby island of Straktiria in 425BC. Famously it's the only time recorded that Spartan soldiers chose to surrender rather than fight to the death. Close by the remains of Nestor's citadel have been found, and in the Odyssey, Homer mentions 'sandy Pylos.' 

For modern Greeks the place is significant as the site of the sea battle of Navarino Bay when, in 1827 a joint force of 27 French, British and Russian men-of-war routed a fleet of 87 Ottoman ships sinking over 50 without the loss of one European vessel. It was this event that finally secured Greek independence. The battle is commemorated in a monument in the town square. I wondered why the whole harbour area was decked out in British, French and Russian national flags, that became obvious when I read the date of the battle carefully - the night of October 20th, last night, 188 years ago in fact. Perhaps if we'd gone out for a drink someone might have bought us an ouzo or two as descendants of the liberators of Greece.

Flag-decked harbour celebrating victory over the Turks at the battle of Navarino Bay.
Sent from my iPhone


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