We so nearly left our hotel on New Year’s Eve just before midnight to experience Athens celebrating the start of 2015, but it was cold, and we still had mince pies and we had to get up at 6.30am to try and get back to the airport to pick up our hire car for the rest of our trip. So, staying in the warmth(?) of our hotel room was an easy choice. We’ve seen fireworks before, not over the Acropolis, I grant you, but hey, with tea and mince pies on offer, it was a tough call.
For this trip, we managed to remember our travel kettle. Few European hotels have tea and coffee making facilities and the kettle, teabags and milk save us a load of cash on buying hot drinks and mean we can have our own in bed at night. We steal sugar from hotel dining rooms and cafes where we can. Our piece de resistance for this trip – a trick probably known to more worldly travellers already – is that any old plastic card will do to keep the electricity in the room activated. We got fed up with the heater going off when we went out of the room, meaning we were freezing when we returned. Exchanging the hotel key card for a plastic loyalty card meant the the heater remains on and we return to a toasty, warm room.
So, fully laden, and in the rain we set off to find that the Metro was running as normal on January 1st even though it was a Bank Holiday (hurray), but that it just didn’t go to the airport (boo), so we had a further walk to find the bus (X95, €5) which started its journey empty and pleasant and ended it’s journey so unbelievably full that we had our rucksacks on our laps and I couldn’t look past mine as I’d knew I’d have a panic attack because the bus was so rammed full of people.
Athens seemed to have cured itself of its traffic problems on New Year’s Day, the only people we saw were making their way home, mostly walking, in that particular manner where it looks like the top half of your body is moving faster than your legs, in a constant stumbling fashion whereby every now and again you have to do a little run to get your legs to catch up. 100% alcohol induced.
We picked up the hire car at 9am from a bloodshot eyed young man who really must have wanted to still be in bed and headed off in the Peloponese for a 150 mile drive to Gythio on the top edge of the Mani Peninsula in Laconia. It was a spectacular drive, mostly full of snow-topped mountains and endless olive groves. We love it. Keith spoke to the cashier in the petrol station who said that he worked 28 16 hour shifts every month and earned €580 (£450) a month. He said he used to work for a Ducati franchise, but lost his job when it closed down; as did 29 of the 30 vehicle franchises in the area. He was 45 years old, the same age as Keith. We felt sad, fortunate and – for me – cross with myself for how much I moan about my working life. Perspective is necessary at times.
We have to cross the Corinth Canal which connects the Ionian and Aegean Seas via a 6km long dug trench. It is very narrow and very deep. Quite a feat of engineering, but probably quite claustrophobic in a little yacht sailing along the bottom. Keith is hugely impressed by the canal.
We arrive in Gythio, picked at random from a map of the Peloponnese, as we had an extra two days to fill before going to our work exchange hosts. Turns out it was a good choice. We are staying in the narrowest hotel in Europe (probably). It is only one room plus a corridor wide, which means every room has a balcony and sea view.
The Hotel Aktaion (£29 for double room including breakfast) boasts many facilities, however, we did not see any evidence of music apart from an ancient box on the wall of the room which didn’t work. There was a game of Trivial Pursuit in Reception though (English version, not Greek, for goodness sake).It does have this view from the balcony, so we’ll forgive them for the music. We saw a kingfisher on this wall and were very excited about that. That’s all it takes. Being a person easily excited by small things makes for a much more interesting life than for the not easily impressed.
We like our accidental finding of Gythio. It has an amphitheatre not quite of the scale of Athens, but interesting nevertheless. The amphitheatre is next to some kind of military establishment, which are not permitted to be photographed by law. Our solitary presence at the amphitheatre with a camera caused a man with a gun to come and ‘clarify the situation’. They might want to move themselves or the amphitheatre if they’re going to get the willies every time someone comes to look at it. It’s been there for some time and there is a sign directing people towards it. Maybe no one ever comes to look at it. I like to think we made all that training worthwhile.
No military personnel were harmed in the taking of this photograph.
There are numerous restaurants, bars and rooms to rent for a probably busy summer season. Not today though; we sit alone in a restaurant – an early treat for Keith’s birthday in a couple of day’s time.
It’s lovely to be out of Athens and to be somewhere with more open countryside and quiet streets. If we hadn’t already decided to move to Portugal, I think we’d be in danger of wanting to live here. Sadly, for my special interest, there are no estate agents in sight, so we’re safe for now. But that one with the roof and windows looks quite nice…