Sunday, 15 May 2011

Nafpilo-Nafpaktos-Galaxidi-Wildlife Encounter

It was a beautiful morning in Nafpilo and as we walked toward the Palamidi Castle we could see the local market setting up however we were on a mission toward the 999 steps. It was a steep climb and we were rewarded with some magnificent views as we made our way up. We had to have several photo stops (translate that to gasps for breath) and made it just after opening time. It is important for the competitive one amongst us to be first up there that morning. Brent thought it should be free if you walk up the stairs but they still charge 4 E can drive. Impressive is an understatement........ and it is hard at times to comprehend the amount of manual work that has gone into these structures. But according to the farmer from Taranaki who we met up there (who incidentally thought we were Australian) the castle was originally Byzantine but had later been modified by the Venetians.

I have been taken with the wild flowers growing everywhere as it is springtime ( only 30 C and no wind) but more so with the poppies. I didn't realise they would be growing wild everywhere. I am amazed by the beauty of them and they are so significant to our country. So I have included here the infamous poem to remind me just how special they are.

In Flanders Fields     by John McCrae, May 1915

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Inspiration for the poem — In Flanders Fields

The GreatWar 1914-1918

During the Second Battle of Ypres a Canadian artillery officer, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, was killed on 2 May, 1915 by an exploding shell. He was a friend of the Canadian military doctor Major John McCrae.
 John was asked to conduct the burial service owing to the chaplain being called away on duty elsewhere. It is believed that later that evening John began the draft for his famous poem 'In Flanders Fields'.

We counted the stairs on the way down and can vouch for the number of or minus 2% error rate. Brent had great delight in sharing with the American tourists who were making their way up that they still had just 738 to go!

We wandered back through the local market buying sweet juicy strawberries which are sold by the kilo 2.50 E per kilo. We also bought beautiful prunes, dried apricots and sultanas that tasted just like when we were kids and sooooo cheap. Unfortunately after eating the prunes they also had the same affect when we were kids. The complete lack of public toilets anywhere becomes a problem.

We headed off in the direction of Patras...the third largest city in Greece, passing first through the township of Argos. Although the GPS lady had us do a few circles first. Here we visited a large amphitheatre that could seat 19,000. Again an amazing site....thinking about how long it took people to build all those years ago. There were some monuments to see at the very top but we decided against this due to the heat of the sun in the middle of the day. Actually more like the tightening calf muscles from the mornings exercise and the lack of the previously mentioned public toilets!

Onward to Patras ...quite a long drive and what greeted us was not a pretty sight. If you think Athens is dirty and grubby in some places and has some unsafe areas Patras a city of 6 million takes the prize. We spent far too long there...all of 30 mins and most of that was driving as fast as we could to get out! There were gangs on street corners, police everywhere and on good advice (see later - Rough Guide) we received a day too late....give this a wide berth and don't ever go there.

We crossed the Rion-Antirion bridge, the world's longest multi-span cable-stayed bridge. It crosses the Gulf of Corinth near Patras, linking the town of Rion on the Peloponnese to Antirion on mainland Greece. It is good to see modern Greece creating structures that are nearly as impressive as the 2000 year old ones we have been seeing. Bridge tolls are both ways and you would not want to get it wrong at 12.90 E ...a cool 25 dollars in NZ terms. We took some great photos and enjoyed the ride over as it seemed a very cheap price to pay to get out of Patras.

We arrived at a small seaside village of Nafpaktos quite late......given the unplanned nature of our adventure. After getting a room again close to the water we set off to explore the village. We stumbled across two Greek weddings big and not fat, the second one big and very pregnant. The village had a little horse shoe shaped harbour with little fishing boats tied up and it was surrounded by cafes, tavernas and bars.

It was lively and many people were out....most drinking coffee or was that alcohol! We had a lovely meal of salad and pork souvlakia and tried some of the local wine (not so nice).

We are fast adapting to the Greek way of life, going out late in the evening to dine and enjoying the laid back lifestyle. This morning we slept in till 9.30am!

We planned to drive the short (by yesterday’s standards) to Delphi but wanted to visit the Castle of Nafpaktos that we could see above the village. Another climb up stairs and the muscles protested some more however when I saw a 2ft snake as I walked through some long grass they protested no more! Brent of course played this down and gallantly tried to direct me away from the 3ft snake. As he had not seen it on the way through the grass it could have easily been 4 ft.! We told some people close by to avoid the area and found that they were Americans from New York. We got talking to them and found that he was writing for Rough Guide a British version of Lonely Planet. He knew all about triangular headed 6ft snakes.....they are venomous. He was re-writing the Rough guide for Greece and gave us some wonderful tips on where to go and to avoid ....see Patras above. He recommended us to stay in a village called Galaxidi about 30 mins out of Delphi and gave us the names of two hotels where we should stay. We can't wait to see if two kiwis feature in the 9ft snake incident at the Castle in the next Rough Guide to Greece.

We are now in Galaxidi (pop. 2000) and staying at a quaint 7 room hotel (full) that came highly recommended. We have swum this afternoon in what seemed like chilly water but there was no wind and the temperature was a balmy 30 C. It is Sunday and nothing is open except of course for the tavernas down on the waterfront where at least a quarter of the village (including all the young children) are hanging out....drinking coffee or alcohol. We went for the alcohol and getting a taste now for Ouzo!
We are bracing ourselves for a return to Athens via Delphi ...depending on GPS lady.....she had one small hiccup today ...we thought we had outsmarted her! It’s at least a 3 hour drive and the thought of the traffic at the other end and the challenge of finding the rental car drop off, while driving on the wrong side of the road...well it doesn't bear thinking about really.

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