Category Archives: Greece

Corinth Canal

 

This is a revamping of a post from nearly five years ago. Apologies to my longtime followers who were with me then.

In 1977, after a hot summer in Greece, the Captain and I welcomed the cooler weather of September. The wind came up and we didn’t mind that so much.

But it got cooler and swimming in the ocean was a chillier event. The tourists were leaving. Maybe it was time for us to think about hitting the road too.

We drove northeast taking a side trip to Epidaurus to see the great amphitheater there. Click here to see the post on Epidaurus.

At Corinth, northern Greece and the Peloponnese were once joined by a narrow strip of land. Now several bridges span the Corinth Canal connecting the north and south of Greece. On the highway heading towards Athens, we stopped on the northern side of one of these bridges to take a picture of the famous canal. Completed in 1893, it is about four miles long and 70 feet wide at the base. After all the effort to build it, the canal is still only good for small boat traffic. The sheer limestone cliffs have constant landslides, and canal closures for repairs are frequent. Also, the depth and width of the waterway allow only boats with a maximum width of 58 ft. and a draft of 24 ft. That disqualifies most modern freighters. Even allowing for the narrowness and shallowness of the waterway, boats that just barely qualify don’t like to risk it because of the high winds that funnel between the walls, and the tides that rush through the canal between the Adriatic and the Aegean seas.

We are looking eastward into the Saronic Gulf, near the southwest of the Aegian Sea.

Since we wanted to stop to take a photo, it was a good time to pull in to the little coffee shop on the north side of the bridge. The place looked neglected and didn’t appear to see many customers in spite of the perfect location, but we didn’t care. We were tired and needed a break from driving. A cup of coffee would hit the spot.

I didn’t expect to find American style coffee, but I would even have welcomed a cup of Greek espresso  with the sweet fine coffee grounds settled in the bottom of those tiny cups. But nothing so fancy was to be had. Our coffee came in plastic cups filled with hottish water and a little packet of Nescafe instant coffee on the side. Sugar was available (which I don’t take because I’m sweet enough), but no milk or cream. Our extreme disappointment made this java stop memorable even after 40 years. How many cups of coffee do you remember years later?

Later, outside the coffee shop, we tried to get a better look at the canal close up. I walked as close as I dared to the edge of the canal and then realized that there was no barricade or fence or sign of any kind, warning of the 80 degree (nearly vertical) 300-foot drop. The dirt parking lot and area around the coffee shop were quite drivable and anyone could have taken a wrong turn from the parking lot at night and gone over the edge. Dogs or children running around could easily go over.

I see in some modern photos that there are short bits of fence, but it doesn’t seem that access to the edge of the canal is restricted even now. I still shudder to think of it.

If anyone knows of stricter fencing of the area next to the canal all these years later, I would be most happy to hear about it.

Bar’s Closed

Photo courtesy of Bjorn Larrson.

http://www.timetableimages.com/maritime/index.htm

An alternative to driving the long way around from Ancona, Italy to Patras, Greece, is to go by car ferry.  On the day we wanted to make the trip, many years ago, third-class tickets for the “Mediterranean Sea,” were sold out, so we had to buy first class. After waiting in line for hours, our VW van was crammed aboard into one of the last available spaces, a cubbyhole with a low ceiling and steel walls on three sides.

Three days later, when it was time to unload, this cubicle became an oven. Temperatures soaring over 100 F. and the chaos of impatient passengers and disorganized unloading practices had us nearly suffocating on the engine exhaust of cars started way too soon in the closed-in car deck. (In those days in Italy, there were no safety regulations such as we already had in Canada and still do.) An overeager passenger in dire need of driving lessons backed up his trailer at a weird angle behind us, making it impossible for us to move. Trapped in the scorching cubicle I felt like a chicken in a slow cooker.

But let me backtrack two days. Long before the unloading fiasco, we learned that paying first-class prices didn’t translate into first-class service.  Because of having first-class tickets, we had to take our meals in the first-class lounge. We put on the best of our jeans and T-shirts and took a seat at the end of one of the long empty tables in the middle of the room. The waiters leaned their shoulders together and muttered something to each other. Then one of them asked us to join a couple at a small corner table. We regretted spoiling their privacy at this secluded table, but it wasn’t our doing. We said hello. No response. Mrs. Ageing Princess dropped her eyelids, smoothed her long white silk gown, and stuck her nose in the air, up and away, presumably to draw fresh uncontaminated breath on her farther side.  Mr. Heir-to-the-Throne shot his cuffs from his tuxedo and patted her hand consolingly, making no effort to control the twitching of his upper lip and nostrils.

We directed our attention to the meal—served to their royal highnesses first—and watched the choicest morsels being loaded onto their plates. The swarthy waiter then came to our side of the table. I didn’t know whether to cry at the inadequate dinner of tired leftover bits he tried to serve us, or laugh at the way the tiniest remnants of French fries kept slipping from the fancy tongs he was obliged to use. So much for first class.

“I think you need to go refill the platter first,” my husband said. I watched as the waiter returned to the kitchen. At first I’d been annoyed that he tried to give us the dregs of the platter, but now that I saw him being jostled out of line at the kitchen pass-through window, I wondered if this explained his sparsely laden serving tray.

After that day, I watched the swarthy one at mealtimes. The other waiters scolded and bumped him, treated him abominably. On the second and last night of the trip, the grand finale after our meal was a surprise. The lights were suddenly shut off and the waiters filed out carrying plates of flaming Baked Alaska. Like soldiers on review, they stood, proudly displaying the Bombe Alaska. The diners applauded politely and the waiters extinguished their fiery platters, blowing out the last of the dying flames —all except our swarthy waiter. He blew on his flaming dessert in increasingly frantic puffs, eventually slapping at his scorching sleeves.

“Uh-oh,” I said. “He’ll be in the doghouse now.” And sure enough, the suave-looking head waiter grabbed the unfortunate’s burning plate, hissed something as he swept past him, and the two disappeared into the kitchen. “Poor guy! He’s getting an earful now.”

The next morning, before we had both eyes open, we were rousted out of our bed  to pack and get ready to disembark. No showers, no breakfast—grab suitcases, leave the cabin. Sure enough, land was in sight, but it would be a while before the tug could maneuver us into the harbour.

“I’ll get us a cup of coffee while we wait.” I found our swarthy waiter friend wiping down the bar in the lounge.

“Can I get a cup of coffee, please? I’ll pay.” Other meals had been included in the ticket price until now, but I could see that they wanted to clear us out and further meals would not be included in the fare.

The waiter snarled at me, “Bar’s closed!”

I took a step back. “Wow!” The cycle of mistreatment would perpetuate itself. He was getting ready to move up in the pecking order.

*****

*Note – Both of the ferries travelling between Italy and Greece (the Mediterranean Sea and the Mediterranean Sky) are no longer in service. The “Sea” (later renamed Mediterranean Sun)  was dismantled and the “Sky” was sinking at the wharf in Athens and so was towed across the bay to sink in a more private (out of the way) place.

You can see the “Mediterranean Sky” lying on its side in the waters of Eleusis Bay, near Athens behind the island of Salamis. Just click the link for a satellite view of it.

https://www.google.ca/maps/place/Eleusis,+Greece/@38.0242441,23.4880591,687m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m2!3m1!1s0x14a1ae4c9ab8d99f:0x400bd2ce2b97e50!6m1!1e1?hl=en

Patras, Greece

Ancona, Italy

Last Greek Tidbits

A quick stop in Athens to buy gas coupons and a barbecued chicken was enough big city culture for us.The city was so crowded and polluted that although we within “sight” of the Acropolis, we didn’t really “see” this ancient landmark through the smog.

Traffic was nuts! Drivers had no compunction about leaving their lane to borrow part of ours if it was convenient for them. You had to have eyes in the front, back, and sides of  your head to survive a drive through downtown Athens. I had placed the chicken on the console and we laughed later about how it tried to fly out the windshield after one good slam on the brakes.

But as we left the city, we relaxed and entered the next phase of our adventure. We would be leaving Greece in the next couple of days. Our first day’s travel northwards had us camping in a place that must have been very near to a famous battle near Lamia. I’m sure if I had dug up some of the ground I would have found swords and helmets from 2000 years ago. Luckily we were too tired for digging and instead spent our time slapping mosquitoes in this marshy area.

The next day brought us to a wonderful beach at Leptokaria. I stood in the water and was amazed that little zebra-striped fish the size that you’d find in a goldfish bowl, came to nibble at my feet. We didn’t swim there and maybe it’s just as well because Gary noticed a rather large jellyfish close to the beach.

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The campsite was beautiful. Fresh seabreezes had kept the heat at a comfortable level, but when the wind picked up and sailboats offshore bounced up and down vigorously, we moved our camper away from the tall trees nearby.

On a long beach walk, we found a home-fashioned coffeepot, that must have been used either on a boat or by Greek campers. It had seen plenty of use for making the strong Greek coffee, but it had outlived its usefulness as a coffeepot. Too many tiny holes rendered it more useful as a strainer.

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On the way back from our walk, we looked up just in time to see a large tree fall between a truck and its travel tent, right on the hitch. We gawked and gulped, stunned that this could have been us if we hadn’t moved, and thankful that no one was hurt.

I took it as a sign that we should move on the next morning and get out of Greece at last.

Our last image of Macedonia was of workers in a cotton field. I had never seen cotton growing and remembered this as a happy pastoral scene as we said goodbye to the south.

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And the Dish Ran Away with the Spoon

I’ve done a post of Odds and Ends but I found a few more that I’d like to share with you. First, the lineman in Greece. We were shocked at the number of safety regulations he would be breaking if he were working in Canada. Things are more lax in Greece.

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The Greek Orthodox Church priest has to do his shopping too. Looks like he might be expecting rain. Or needs to protect himself from the heat of the sun.

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When we were camping we had the inevitable garbage to get rid of. In Greece, garbage cans were not on every street corner as they are in Canada today. We had met a young doctor who was doing his first “practice” session in the small town of Kardamyli at that time. He spoke English and was happy to speak to us and be our friend, for which we were grateful. We asked him what people do with their garbage. He offered to show us. He got into our van and gave us directions (to the garbage dump, I presumed). He told us to stop at a bridge just outside of town. We got out and didn’t see a garbage dump.

“There!” he said. “You just throw it down there in the riverbed. In the winter, the rains come and wash it all out to sea.”

You can imagine how shocked we were. I took a picture but we just couldn’t throw our garbage down there.

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And now for something a little more lighthearted.

We often used our Hibachi to barbecue chicken or pork. One day we had some pork pieces on the Hibachi and without refrigeration you cook it all whether you can manage to eat it all or not.

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The pork was delicious, but we couldn’t eat it all and having had a glass of Demestica wine with our supper, we lay down on the bed in the van for a little snooze to wait for the heat of the sun to abate somewhat. The last piece of pork was left on the now cooling Hibachi to finish cooking. We could nibble on it later if we got hungry.

Maybe half an hour later, I woke to the light clinking sound of metal on metal. A chicken was making off with the flipper we had left on the Hibachi.

But the Hibachi was empty!

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Well hey diddle, diddle,

No cat and no fiddle,

Just sheep grazing under the moon,

The little dog laughed to eat such good pork,

And the chick ran away with the spoon.

Gytheion

From Aeropolis we continued on to Gytheion which is near the southernmost point of the middle of three fingers of the Peloponnesus. At least at that time it was as far south as the main road went. At land’s end I walked down a little path to the ocean and came across a dry well. I’m sitting on the edge of it here in the photo. It was fairly deep but no provisions had been made to ensure that no one fell into it. Not even a sign. Perhaps the locals knew I couldn’t read Greek anyway.

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The grasses were dry and my throat was dry, but the well was dry too. So we moved on and drove back into town. Gytheion was a pretty place with a wide seawalk. Boats of all sizes were tied to the docks and this one in the photo had small octopuses hung up like laundry.

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In a nearby bar, we sat down to have a glass of ouzo, Greece’s famous licorice flavoured drink. It came in a water glass with a small jug of water on the side. You add the water to the ouzo and the clear liqueur turns milky. Magic!

But even more magical was the meseraki (that’s what they called the mini oval platter of goodies that came with the drinks). On these tiny platters, grilled octopus pieces were served for free as appetizers with the ouzo. I could see the barbecue grills in the kitchen area of the shop, and noted the diesel fueled flames. In spite of this the octopus tasted delicious. We simply had to have another meseraki.

We tried to explain that we didn’t want another ouzo because we were driving, but we would sure love to have a plate of octopus and we didn’t mind paying. We didn’t expect to have it for free.

Nothing doing! You want octopus, you have to have the ouzo.  I’d say we had a language barrier. We drank the ouzo to be polite, but before driving back to Kardamyli, we had a nap with a wonderful seabreeze blowing through the van.

Touring Day

We were in Greece from August 8th to September 11th back in 1977. It’s a long time to be camping in one little town, so one day we drove south to do a sightseeing trip.  Aeropolis was a scenic little port – just a few houses near the water. The main town, not very big, was a short distance inland.

I looked up Aeropolis on Google Maps and clicked the Satellite option. It looks like many more buildings have been constructed along the beach since I took this photo. The houses look almost deserted, but in the next photo, you can see that there are people living there.

Also, notice in this photo the farmhouse on the hillside and the fenced fields. If you click on the photo you’ll be able to see more detail. All those “fences” are made of rocks. They used the material they had. Makes me think of some of the walls between fields in the UK.

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You can see cars and people near some of the buildings, and in some of the boats. There are even some swimmers in the lower left corner.

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From Aeropolis we took a detour off the main highway, and drove twelve miles south to Pyrgos Dirou. This place was known for its caves. They are part of an underground river. At the time, only a small part was accessible by boats through narrow passageways surrounded stalagmites and stalactites. According to Wikipedia, these caves were places of worship in Paleolithic and Neolithic times and their inhabitants believed that the caves were the entrance to the underworld. I’m  amazed that they still exist considering all the earthquakes the region has.

We paid  the 180 drachma entrance fee (about $5.50) and were asked to take our place in a small flat-bottomed boat along with (I think) four other people. I could certainly believe that we were heading for the underworld. I couldn’t take any pictures inside the caves but I bought a postcard which I sent to my parents and asked them to save for me. I scanned that postcard today and although it’s very grainy, it will give you an idea of what it was like in the caves. The lights make it look more colourful than it would have been in natural light.

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Underwater cables ran along the riverbed lighting our way. I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if they had a power failure. Imagine being in there in the pitch dark and not knowing where the entrance was. My claustrophobia ramped up a notch at the thought.

On the bench in front of us in the boat, sat an elderly woman wearing a small black “churchy” hat – the kind with the net in front of the face.  She was oblivious to the stalactites that we had to dodge now and then as our pilot navigated the twists and turns through the caves. We had to duck or lean over several times to avoid being whapped in the head by them, but the little old lady took no action. Gary gently pushed her head to the side each time she was in danger of being knocked out.

She sang throughout the whole trip, not missing a beat when her head was tipped out of the way for her. She smiled and nodded at Gary and kept on singing about the fengari (the moon). I was a bit nervous about her singing when I saw signs posted here and there in English advising the tourists to be quiet. I wondered what the vibrations might do in these cramped quarters. I tried not to think about earthquakes.

When we came to the end of the passage, we were asked to step out of the boat onto a ledge of the underground riverbank. Some tourists who were waiting there, climbed into our boat and left. The tour guide assured us we would get on another boat. While we waited, we were given a little tour spiel to keep our minds off being stranded. We were told to have a look at some of the formations along a path beside the river.  When the next boat came along, I got in but Gary was asked to stay behind. At that point I said no, I would stay behind too, and after a bit of arguing they took someone else. I just had a gut feeling that I didn’t want to be separated from Gary at that time and place. We didn’t know the language and we were dependent on the tour guides to get us out of there again. I’m not sure we could have found our way without them; certainly not if the lights went out. I was also a bit worried about the electricity in those cables and underwater lights. Did I dare try wading or swimming out if I were stranded? I would never find my way in the dark. We both got in the next boat that came along, but it was a wake-up call to show us how completely we were at the mercy of the tour guides. For a control freak like me, that was hard to take.

In hindsight, as fantastic as it was to see the caves by boat, it’s one of those things I would never do again, now that I’ve had time to consider all the “what if”s.

The tour continues next time.

The Bakery

This photo has a lot of stories in it. I think it would make a great photo for one of those memory games when you look at it and then look away and try to remember what you saw. That wasn’t my intention when I snapped the photo. It was my fascination with the “bakery” that prompted me to take the picture.

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What I noticed:

The old man whose arm appears twisted.

Three bicycles, modern for the times (1977).

The man selling cassette tape music – most kids nowadays don’t even know what a cassette tape is.

The woman at the far right and, presumably, her bicycle. She’s shopping for something stored in those burlap bags – tomatoes, eggplants, some kind of sweet potato? – not sure –  and probably green peppers in the farthest bag.

The shabby building.

The bread on the shelves, both high and low.

The reflection in the window – I’m not sure what that was about.

The sacks of flour outside the bakery! Do you think any bugs got into it?

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Another nearby bakery had the same storage facilities for the flour – out on the street, on the sidewalk. The firewood for the oven is next to the flour. I’d guess it might be olive tree wood. The long handled lifter is ready for putting the loaves into the oven and taking it out. The flashlight next to it will help determine if the bread is done. I think I’d be at a loss to know how to bake a good loaf of bread under these conditions. More power to the Greek baker who seems to have no problem turning out tasty bread. If there was a little extra insect protein in it, I didn’t notice. The bread tasted good … and I’m still alive to tell about it.