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OPWT2 DIARY - DAYS 35 - 40

OPWT2 DIARY - DAYS 35 - 40

DAY 35 – Kefalonia – Kyllini – Kardamyli – Nicos Psaltiras

Looking at the weather forecast it showed rain for our ride from the north of Kefalonia diagonally south east across the island to the port of Poros and our ferry across to the mainland for the onward journey. We quietly got dressed and, not wanting to disturb our hosts, crept like a pair of heavily footed elephants down the steps to load up the bikes and do our best to make a relatively quiet departure. Not so. Mike and Helen appeared in their dressing gowns on the balcony above and watched us buckle up, dress up and start up. As noiselessly as is possible with two agriculturally engined motorbikes (which is pretty raucous at the best of times) waved at them in mirrors and they waved back – if in delight we were headed on, we wouldn’t have blamed them one iota. Two dusty and road worn elderly bikers do not always make for the bestest of house guests but the respite they offered was so gratefully received and very much needed.

The road down the west coast towards the middle of the island runs high above the water and hugs the contours of the land – the swooping bends, absent of traffic at that time of day, give you almost a feeling of flying. The weather gods are kind and as the road carves its way inland and southwards it passes through a land of olive and cyprus trees that punctuate the landscape like pencils jabbed into the soil. We climb, seemingly endlessly, and the vegetation gives way to sparse scrub with far reaching views down to the olive plans below. We like this.

Dropping down to the port of Poros through a mini canyon we arrive to find the ferry packed with Easter revellers returning from the festivities. It’s a minor bunfight onto the ferry which departs on the dot and charges across mill pond smooth waters and within an hour or so we are off and onto mainland Greece.  It’s raining.  Annoyingly, the fair weather gods seem to have buggered off for the day as it looks set in with full on, gloomy grey clouds about an inch above our heads, dumping large amounts of moisture upon and all around us. We’re heading for Kardamyli to meet Nicos Psaltiras, an old supplier of ours who we want to reconnect with as he has the most stupendous olive oil and is a magnificently olivey person, to boot.

We set off in a bid to get ahead of the weather and manage it for a while before the heavens open with the full wrath of whatever un-fair weather god was in charge at that moment, and we pull into a garage to take shelter and consider our options. Hijacking the Wi-Fi we find a hotel just around the corner and decide to call it a day. Hotel ‘Oasis’ is situated on an abandoned strip of desolate and rubbish strewn coast with all the redeeming features of a burst boil. The pouring rain does not make it look any better and the staff appear to match their surroundings and the description of the redeeming feature. Almost at the point of checking in and parting with a wad of cash the boils were eagerly anticipating, the phone rings and it’s Nicos who tells us it’s warm and sunny where he is – about another hours ride. We make our excuses and the boily gargoyles retreat back into the Oasis to wait for the next unlucky soul to cross the portal. Gratefully, we slip off into the rain and start humming Hotel California, remembering the last line:

“You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

A lucky escape and, as if on cue, a fair weather god rocked up again and the rain eased off to a dull whimper.

Of all places to meet, Nicos had chosen a Lidl car park about 10 minutes from him. We pulled in and parked up. Various shoppers came and went and our UK Plates caused something of a stir and a fair few stopped and asked us if we really were from the UK and had we ridden all the way. A tall, elegant, long blonde haired lady went past me and smiled, then turned, looked at Annie and asking her, gently,

“Is this your machine? You have ridden that to here? From England?”

Annie smiled back in a sort of Aw Shucks kind of way and said yes, we had ridden all the way from England.

“I am so proud of you – I could never do such a thing.”

I’m not sure what she would have said if Annie had told her of the previous trip 32 years ago. But it did make us both wonder a bit. It’s not every married couple that would choose to do what we’re doing and sometimes, when the weather gods play with us, we question our choice, too. 

Nicos swept in, gave us a big Greek hug, took us for a late lunch at which much discussion about climate and weather was had whilst enjoying fish after fish.  He led us out of town and up into the hills where he tucked us up in his Mum’s basement for the night (which was way more luxurious than I’ve made that sound). We slept like babies. 


DAY 36 – Kardamyli – Glytheio

Sleeping in different places almost every night poses its challenges. No two layouts are quite the same and, as you are colonising the space with the required unloading, charging and washing, it’s necessary to spend some time wiping all previous layouts and configurations from your head and absorbing the one you now find yourself in. The location of plug sockets, tables, light switches, door handles (and whether they open in, out, left or right), and – most importantly – the layout of the bathroom. The reason for all of this is simple. At some point, you are going to need to find the bathroom in the middle of the night. If this is not you, then you are either very lucky or too young to be reading something where swearing happens often and fruitily. As was the case when Annie, waking first, decided to forget the current layout and proceeded to noisily fumble her way from the bed to the wall, then to the wardrobe, bin, curiously placed stack of wind chimes before finding the door and decided it opened inwards from the left when it actually opened outwards from the right. Swearing took place. Quite a lot, in fact. At first quietly under her breath then gradually more and more fruitily and full throated as each obstacle was met until finally I turned the light on and, with wombat blinking takin place on both our parts, the door was negotiated and the bathroom located. We now draw a map but, as maps don’t work without light, we have developed a truly genius solution involving String Theory and Quantum Mechanics.

We tie a piece of string to the loo seat at one end and the bedhead at the other so all you need to do is to find the string, straddle it and walk backwards until your goal is found. Easier if you leave the lid open. Otherwise a quantum of additional swearing can take place during the realistion that the mechanics of not opening the lid before commencing can cause physical discomfort. It’s our version of Quantum Physics and String Theory. Works for us.

We said our goodbyes to Nicos’ Mum and headed off to meet Nicos at his new factory. Greek Industrial Architecture is not known for being anything other than brutalistic so to find a triangular building in a greeny grey that almost perfectly blended with it’s surroundings in amongst old olive trees was a really pleasant surprise. Nicos showed us around and we continued our conversation about all things Greek: Weather, Politics, Labour, Life, Food, Politicians, Bureacracy, Brexit, Ex British Prime Ministers Who Had Cocked It All Up, Corruption, EU Subsidies and all manner of subjects in between.

We have known each other for almost 20 years but it is the first time we have visited him in his own environment and it was a truly wonderful experience to get to know him better and hear his thoughts on so many subjects. We discussed the five questions and have recorded these more as a synopsis of the whole conversation over the previous day’s lunch and over the rest of the time we spent together. He is a thoroughly professional, diligent and thoughtful producer who has a real desire to see the olives continue and future generations be able to enjoy them. An Olivey soul through and through.

After we, well mainly he, had put the world to rights and sorted all of lifes ills it was, of course, time for lunch. We headed into Kardamyli to his wine shop which, next time you are passing, you mustn’t miss – it’s a gem!  Meeting up with his wife, Katerina, we made our way to the terrace of a fish taverna overlooking a picturesque, but very much working, harbour of small dayboat fishing vessels and they told us that it had been the location for many films. The renowned travel writer, author and key member of the resistance in the second world war, Patrick Leigh Fermor, made his home here which is possibly one of the finest properties in Greece. It has been used as a film set itself and his writing still captures landscapes in a way that makes him, in the eyes of many, the best travel writer of all time. A snippet from one of his letters describing the Mani:

“We saw a peninsula ending in crescent-shaped beaches … We walked down into a gently sloping world of the utmost magical beauty … thick with magnificent olive trees and lots of other trees … Behind, the peninsula melted into a great conch of grey and orange rock.”

We discussed him and many other things over lunch and left feeling as if we had rekindled a friendship that should never have grown cold. We will return later in the year for the harvest when, no doubt, we will talk some more about all the important things in life. Olives, Olive Oil and Friendship.


DAY 37 – Glytheio – Nafplio

Our route on leaving Nicos had been down the western coast of the Mani through endless olive groves in various states and stages of life – mostly old, twisted, knarled and riven barked with lush canopies still with the last vestiges of the bosomy blossom that will turn into the fruit for this years harvest. Some groves with the ground neatly and carefully trimmed to an inch or two, the trees pruned and shaped to deliver the best chance for a good harvest. Most, though, overgrown with thistle, grass and shrub where the ancient trunks are hidden by the wild suckers that spring from the base of the trees sapping the energy and water from the main tree above. The suckers have very different leaves and colouring from the branches above and we’re told that whereas the branches above are a specific variety – Ithaki, Kalamata, Koroneiki and so on – the suckers revert back to the base of Olea Europea – the wild, feral olive tree.

It's genuinely sad to see so many trees left apparently untended but it is a sign of things to come and, in all honesty, we question our right to have an opinion – we’re not living here, the trees don’t belong to us, we’re not part of the family. Do we have a right to an opinion? To pass comment or judgement? Well, that’s partly what this entire trip is about. Do we, as end users of a highly valuable, ancient, revered, live enriching and preserving plant have any right to an opinion in how it is tended in its natural environment? The answer to that remains to be fully determined but our strong feeling is that these concerns are warranted considering our involvement over the last 30 years in this industry and not just for ourselves but for those who continue to struggle to look after the trees from one generation to the next so that their voices are heard and their struggles understood and supported.

We chat about this as we ride. It tempers our view of what we see and observe but in no way diminishes the pleasure of being able to ride through it and see it unfold before us – grove after grove, small farmstead after small farmstead – open country that opens before us with every bend. The riding has become instinctive now – it still requires every sense to be connected and active and you are constantly assessing the surroundings you are in at that precise moment but also able, on an extra-sensory level, to be able to conduct a philosophical conversation of sorts. People question our mode of transport but I am sure that if we were in the enclosed bubble of a car or camper van we’d see far less, think far less and experience far less. Having said that, and waxed lyrical for a moment, if the weather gods don’t play nice, it really is pretty darn shitty – whatever you’re travelling through.

We ride over the hills and begin our descent towards Glythieo – our stop for the night. We discover I’d booked something out of town. Reminders of Hotel Oasis arise and Annie is humming Hotel California again as we approach our digs. Not as bad as we first thought. Unlike the only taverna available for an evening meal. Least said the better, save to say, I have never seen so many one eyed dribbling cats and tail-less, ear-less dogs (all with massive bollocks) in one place before. Astounding.

Bright sunlight the following morning makes everything look better – even the wildlife. We set off and head for Nafplio – a town that Annie tells she has been to before. With me. I don’t recall but, to avoid a marital episode, I go along with it lest she discovers a swear valve again. Here, I revert to the description on the website VisitGreece.GR for their version of events:

“One of the most beautiful towns in the area of Argolis (in eastern Peloponnese) as well as one of the most romantic cities all over Greece, Nafplio was the first capital of the newly born Greek state between 1823 and 1834.

According to mythology, the town was founded by Nafplios, the son of God Poseidon and the daughter of Danaus (Danaida) Anymone. The town’s history traces back to the prehistoric era when soldiers from here participated in the Argonautic expedition and the Trojan War alike. The town declined during the Roman times and flourished again during the Byzantine times. Frankish, Venetian and Turkish conquerors left their mark in the town and strongly influenced its culture, architecture and traditions during the centuries. Ancient walls, medieval castles, monuments and statues, Ottoman fountains and Venetian or neoclassical buildings mesmerize the visitor with their unique architecture and beauty.”

We arrive to find the streets crowded and overflowing with folk in various stages of either delirium, intoxication or sheer bloody minded-ness. None of which accurately describe or cover what influence the 4 occupants of some sort of pedal powered rickshaw were under when they lurched into our path giggling hysterically and all trying to pedal in different directions. At the same time. The result was, despite furiously pedalling and giggling, they remained entirely stationary and causing a hazard not just to us but to anyone within 50 metres without military grade ear plugs such was the noise the four of them emitted. Stukas in WW2 had “Jericho Trumpets” fitted to the wings to help make them scream as they dived. These four had ingested Jericho Trumpets and were now in full on Dive! mode. Somehow, we managed to get around them and the last we saw was them being actively hosed with fire extinguishers raided from local establishments in a bid to drown them. So much for… “Ottoman fountains and Venetian or neoclassical buildings mesmerize the visitor with their unique architecture and beauty.”

Our Pension is in a side street so thin it is navigable only by those on a strict lettuce, prune and E Coli diet and, with our panniers scraping the walls on either side so that we couldn’t fall over even if we really, really wanted to, we pull up to the open door of Pension Really Unhelpful and our host, somewhat redundantly, shouts at us that we can’t park there.

“Where would you like us to park?” We asked, reasonably, we felt.

“Not here.”

“Yup. Got that. So your website said you had parking. Where is it?”

“No Parking. Have no parking.”

By this time we were hemmed in front and back with honking Smart cars, them being the only thing that could squeeze through the exceptionally narrow street we found ourselves wrapped up in. At this point I found some deep seated Greek genes. Possibly mixed with some Albanian, Monte Negrin but definitely Balkan and decided to deploy them. I wriggled off the bike and put it onto the centre stand so it completely blocked everything. Did the same to Annie’s. Took the keys out and went for a drink. Honking happened. It diminished the further away we got until, with a nice glass of white wine in front of us, we couldn’t hear it anymore.

Returning some while later, parking had miraculously been found for us and we settled into our room and, to make sure they knew we’d fully colonised the place, we washed pants, socks and thongs and hung them up across the window before nipping out for supper.

Strolling through the back streets, squares and avenues, Annie decides she had never been to Nafplion before. I breathe a sigh of relief. Not early onset memory loss then. We pass a pleasant evening having tracked down a cooking smell of something really gorgeous to the restaurant kitchen we reckoned must have made it and, judging by what we ate, I think we nailed it. I had Aubergine Rolls with Feta and Honey.  Thin strips of Aubergine that appeared to be have been sliced on a mandolin, lightly fried then rolled around a Greek version of Prosciutto with crumbled Feta, seasoned to perfection and drizzled with Honey. This was genuinely a dish for the Gods: Poseidon himself would have been pleased and satiated.

DAY 38 – Nafplio – Diakopto

Escaping from Nafplio was a lot easier than we expected – no rickshaws or Jericho Trumpets this morning and even the streets seemed wider and less manic than the day before. Tomorrow we are meeting up with some work colleagues for a round of factory and farm visits so we are heading towards that first meet up via the Korinth Canal.

Our route takes us first east towards the coast and past the ancient theatre of Epidavros to Epidavros itself before heading up the coast towards Korinth. The landscape is more barren and less lush than the Mani and the groves of olive and orange give way to scrub that covers the lower slopes of the mountains to either side of us. The sun is warm, the bikes are smooth and all is well and I’m reminded of The Gaelic Blessing that has been around our family for many years and is often offered up when a journey is about to commence or we say goodbye – for however long we may be parted.

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields

And, until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of his hand.

Kind of fits the mood of the ride today as it’s time for us to say goodbye to the Peloponnese and head for mainland Greece. The road hugs the coast north from Epidavros before rising into the mountains once again before reaching the coast and our first sight of the bay of Corinth full of tankers and ships apparently not waiting to make the transit through the canal as it’s too narrow for modern shipping.

The road bridge over the canal takes you almost by surprise and you are over it in a flash, circling back we park up and are just in time to see someone throw themselves off a platform under the bridge for what must be quite an exciting bungy jump. Not for the faint hearted and whilst Annie encourages me to have a go, I’ve got a twinge in my left knee and some loose change in my pockets which I don’t want to lose so think it’s safest to give it a miss for today.

Walking over the pedestrian bridge far above the water you do get a sense of wonder and awe that such a canal exists at all. A piece of engineering that was originally conceived by Periander, one of the Seven Sages of ancient Greece and the ruler of Corinth way back in the late seventh century BC. It was first attempted by Emperor Nero in 67 AD who, to great fanfare, manfully dug the first bucket of soil out with a Golden Pickaxe (or, likely truth be told, lent on the pickaxe while a few slaves did the back breaking bit). However, the rest of it took a little longer and few more generations of labour: forced, willing or otherwise and it wouldn’t be finally completed until 1893. A feat of engineering that would be a challenge today let alone back then. Alas, it’s too narrow for most modern ocean-going ships so now is more of a tourist attraction than anything else. So, started by one of the most famous Roman Emperors, a feat of ancient and Victorian era engineering, a total of 2,500 years in the making and now a mere tourist attraction on a tick box coach tour of selfie seeking slack jaws.

We watch another unfortunate being strapped into the bungy harness, egged on by his girlfriend and keen not to show fear (epic fail – the man was as white as a sheet and gulping so much his Adam’s apple was bouncing up and down like a yoyo) and decided he didn’t need us an audience so we mounted up and rode the coast to Diakopto for a welcome lunch leaving him to his fate and possible reward from a suitably impressed girlfriend, once he’d changed his underwear. Hope it was worth it. My knee is definitely twinging and I got to wondering what Emperor Nero and his Golden Pickaxe would have made of how the enterprise is used and viewed by modern man.

I mean, is it really a fitting end to a gloriously ambitious, painstaking and very time consuming, lengthy undertaking to become a place for eager-to-impress boyfriends to hurl themselves into the chasm between the steeply dig walls on a piece of elastic so they can bounce up and down.  I think I know where Nero would have inserted that pickaxe and I’m fairly certain it’s somewhere the sun doesn’t shine. We rode on.

Diakopto sits at sea level but enjoys the most amazing backdrop of mountains and canyons that look more like the sort of diorama that you might find in a model railway or the edge of the bubble in the Truman Show. Coincidentally, it also has, according to the website, the world’s narrowest gauge railway – The Odontotos. A toothed railway that is another feat of engineering on a totally different scale to what we’d already seen earlier. Authors Note: It’s not the narrowest according to the Guiness Book of Records – we were nerdy enough to check.

Whilst we are not Trainspotters (although we are a bit nerdy, clearly), we do like a good train journey and a toothed railway that goes from sea level to almost 2,500 feet up over just over 22km at the base of the one of Greece’s best loved ski areas in the town of Kalavrita is not something to be sneezed at. We needed tickets.

Duly secured we retired for the night and dreamt of Bungy Jumping Emperor Penguins.


DAY 39 – Daikopto – Tripsas – Galaxidi – Jimmy/Alexis

Simply, the train journey, up and back, was epic for all the right reasons and this is not the place to describe it – you’ll just have to come and experience to for yourself. Just make sure you get tickets 131 and 132 for the return journey. Do it and you’ll see what we mean.

We had arranged before we left the UK to visit some of our suppliers along the way and we were also to meet some of our support team from the UK and the folk who help us oil the wheels in Greece. If that sounds sinister, it isn’t really. We’ve known Jimmy The Greek for at least 20 years and he’s been oiling wheels all over Greece for us ever since along with his business partner, Alexis. Alas, the support team suffered a few setbacks and weren’t able to join us but Jimmy and Alexis agreed to meet and spend a few days travelling together to visit a few people and farmers we know.

Assignations for meetings in Supermarket carparks seem to be all the rage over here and, at the appointed hour, we found ourselves lurking outside the Aegean Cash ‘n’ Carry watching endless trolleys being bundled into boots – sometimes just the contents but, quite often, the trolleys went in too, and awaiting the arrival of JTG & Alexis. Otherwise known as the Ouzo Twins as, with their propensity to deliver typical Greek hospitality at every opportunity, everything goes cloudy after a while – just like Ouzo when the water hits it. After a slow drive by to check the coast was clear, they rolled in and after the proper Greek exchange of manly-but-definitely-not-bromance-in-any-way-at-all style hugs involving stubbly rubs and the odd forehead to forehead contact when the decision to go left followed by right was met with a right followed by left sort of faux pas. Stubble is like Velcro – one of you has hook, the other fluff. If the two touch: instant fix and only a tearing apart can separate you. Stubble untangled, Annie’s part of the hook and fluff released and foreheads rubbed we set off for our first visit rubbing chins and cheeks all the while.

I guess this is not really the right forum to share exactly where we went and what we found but Yianni and Vasilli were gracious and welcoming and their views on climate and all things olive, labour, Brexit and other assorted observations can be found under separate cover.

After a pleasant hour or so we bid them a fond farewell and escaping the offered hugs lest it all get far too complicated with, who hugged who, and, which hook got entangled with which fluff, and, there only being one lady to four men, and, how we would all have to take turns, we went with the platonic option cunningly created by Plato all those years ago - supposedly to deal with exactly this sort of situation.

Our stop for the night was the old town of Galaxidi, over the Patras Bridge which is an exquisite piece of engineering and stretches over the Straights of Patra and links the Peloponnese to northern or mainland, Greece.

True to their word, the Ouzo Twins looked after us very well and, as the clouds gathered, we drifted back to our hotel for the night and wisely taking Plato’s advice, went to bed, well fed, watered and not at all ouzo’d.


DAY 40 – Galaxidi to Limni – George & Helen

Today is a long drive and a much anticipated one. We are headed to Evia to see Gorgeous George – a supplier who has become a great friend and something of an icon to not just us but also the whole of the Greek food world. Now famous in many places around the globe, George Kentris is one of the finest people we have ever been fortunate enough to meet.

Our relationship dates back to 1999 when we first met him at a Trade Show at Earls Court in London. The Greek Pavilion was not the glitzy and slick affair it might be today. Back then it was tucked away in the hinterland of the exhibition hall and largely unvisited. On some stands there was nothing but a sack of odd shaped vegetables or a peeling poster of a lady Greek and a man Greek, both looking like Zorba and Zorbatina, picking potatoes – mostly the stands were left untended and vacant with just a full ashtray to indicate previous habitation. However, George stood out and was definitely the most handsome and right shaped vegetable in the entire place. His products were superb and whilst he had not a word of English and my Greek was limited, we made a connection that has lasted the test of time in a way that makes me delighted to see him and always a little sad and emotional to say goodbye.

The roads from Galaxidi to the Island of Evia are swoopy and easy, through the wind-swayed groves of olive, almond, peach and lemon. The ground beneath of varying soil from rich red to stony ochre beset with boulders and scratchy groundcover – all the while the mountains an ever present guardian over all. Sometimes the road clings to the coast, at others it rises away to small hilltop hamlets with barking dogs, groaning tractors and the odd glance as we plod past – our bikes making an agricultural rumble rather than throaty roar.

The distance to Evia shrinks and we contemplate how we’ll find George and his business. The fires in Evia a few years ago were some of the worst in living memory and huge swathes of the island were burned almost beyond recognition. Villages had to be evacuated using ferry boats driven onto beaches amongst the flames and exploding pines. George very nearly lost his factory and home and we wonder how the vegetation has recovered since.

The road rises from Chalkeri and climbs sharply and twistily into pine forests that smell green, lush and fresh and lead you northwards. These are roads I’ve driven or travelled many times in a car, making the pilgrimage to see George, but this is the first time I’ve ridden them on a motorcycle and they are every bit as enticing, exciting and scenic as I thought they would be. Annie and I gleefully hang back from the Ouzo Twins so we can enjoy the bends that little bit more in the absence of traffic ahead or behind. Reaching the highest point we begin our descent which is every bit as wonderful as the going up bit – the greenery at this time of year still full and bosomy – rich with blossom and heady with smells and fragrances – some of which we can place, others not so. Riding in the open air delivers so much more nose-bang for your buck than being in a car – it assails you constantly in the nicest way possible.

At least until we reach the fire band. Even after 2 years, the stench of burnt wood still hangs heavy and we ride for mile after mile through a scorched landscape that stretches far into the distance and we begin to realise just how devasting this series of fires was. The trunks of the pines still stand, black and bare, no new growth; the olives have scorched trunks with some new, bright, green leaves, the ground has some cover but is patchy and sparse. When alight, this place must have been simply unliveable. All the descriptions or comparisons with hell or Dante’s Inferno are too trite and don’t do it. This was a tragedy of truly epic and Greek proportions.

We reach Limni – one of the towns evacuated during the worst of the fires and meet George for what turned into the most perfect George Evening – amazing meal, wonderful company and a chance to catch up with a different George – painter, philosopher and poet now, a George I’d not met before. Still Gorgeous and, underneath it all, still very much the Food Creator George but now with added Artist George and deep Philosopher George and engagingly Poetic George. We are lucky to know him. Olivey is the perfect description for him. Just Olivey.

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