Ten Days in May
Cows and the Hound of Hades
I was up really early this morning. It may have had something to do with the fact that it was an 'out' day rather than the 'in' day we had yesterday. I busied myself tidying the kitchen, specifically loading the dishwasher so that it would finish before we left, taking the key fob and therefore the power with us.
We had breakfast in bed, delicious and creamy thick strained yogurt with a light clear honey poured all over it. We were both feeling decidedly bloated when we woke up. I wouldn't have been surprised if seismologist registered a tremor in Assos this morning on account of our tremendous wind!
Anyway, we imposed a bread ban today so no toast. I did have two boiled eggs which I was probably going to regret later.
Once the dishwasher had finished we set off on our day trip to explore the North of the island.
Our first hurdle was to get the car out. The parking area was quite small. Driving into it was no problem, especially when we were the only ones there but trying to reverse out with the neighbour's car parked tightly against you was a challenge. With the mantra "new car, no scratches" on loop in my head I manoeuvred it out very slowly, guided by Julie's wavy hand signals.
Finally free and onto the road we had a bit of a dilemma over which way to go. The shortest distance would have been down the hill but that was blocked by a couple of construction vans. We had no choice but to drive along the narrow windy single lane track in the opposite direction to which we arrived on Saturday.
If we had met a car along here it would have been so traumatic. We held our breath as we rounded each corner and exhaled with relief when the road was clear. That was until we came around one corner to find a cow right in the middle of the road.
"Oh My God!!" screeched Julie. It was quite a shock!
When the cow saw us it moved to the side as much as it could. I guess it was familiar with the routine. Fortunately we were in a small car and I was confident we had enough space to squeeze past.
Julie wasn't as confident and was having kittens sat next to me. She was of course sat on the left, the closest to the beast. It could all have gone terribly wrong. There wasn't much space to the right as it dropped sharply into a wooded hillside.
With my right wheel on the edge, the left wing mirror tucked in tight and our hearts in our mouths we inched our way gradually past the cow. We were so close we almost touched. Any contact would have surely spooked it. I've heard stories of cows jumping onto car bonnets and clambering over the roof. Now that would have left a bit more than a scratch!
Thankfully our cow was so mild mannered it stood completely still whilst we rolled safely past.
Eventually, with a clear road ahead, it wasn't long before we reached the main road north, where we stopped at the junction to enjoy the view down the coast. There was a small roadside shrine here which sadly we assumed was to honour someone who had died in a road accident. I could see this simple fact raising Julie's anxiety about driving to another level.
I have to admit that we weren't the most experienced drivers on the opposite side of the road. It helped that there were hardly any other vehicles on the road. It made for a more relaxing drive.
We drove mainly inland through a sequence of villages that sounded more like tasty dips, like Kokolata Kethrea, Ventourata, Mapkantonata until we reached Antipata, our destination for this morning. We were looking for a secluded cove known as Dafnoudi Beach.
We parked on the side of the road in the shade of on olive tree, outside the village church and opposite a cafe beneath a large pine tree called To Pefko.
Before heading down to the beach we walked around the village. There wasn't much to it. A handful of houses, a church, two cafes and a souvenir shop.
Of most interest was the church of the Virgin Mary. It had a small onion-shaped dome, like a Russian Orthodox dome, although much smaller in proportion to the rest of the building.
Other than the windows which were a distinctive dolly mixture of colours the rest of it was quite plain and understated.
I walked towards the large wooden doors to have a closer look at three rusty old iron bells hanging outside. They were probably only less than half a century old yet they looked like they had been tolling since the age of Greek antiquity. From the time of myths and legends.
Before starting our trek down to the beach was had a quick coffee at To Pefko, sitting outside in the shade of the large pine tree. We got a most friendly welcome and the "Greek" coffee was excellent. Not as chewy as the Turkish equivalent!
The village of Antipata was larger than we thought as it spread out away from the main road. We passed several houses as we meandered downhill towards the coast.
It seemed quite a distance away but we had with us a small guide book which detailed the walk so we knew we were going the right way.
We came to a ruined old villa with a walled garden. It was of interest not because it was a beautiful old house that pre-dated the 1953 earthquake but during the Second World War it was the command residence of the Nazi captain responsible for patrolling the Errissos peninsula.
The occupation of the island during the war was a dark period in Kefalonia's history, as it was across most of Europe. It culminated with one of the Nazi's many atrocities, the massacre of 5000 Italian troops.
As the tide was turning, Mussolini was overthrown and Italy surrendered. The Italian garrison on Kefalonia were given an ultimatum. They either fought alongside the Germans, fought against the Germans or they handed in their weapons and surrendered.
The Italians refused to surrender, nor would they fight for the Third Reich. They had no choice but to fight against their former ally. The battle hardened German troops were no match for the Italians and after a few days it was all over.
Acting on the orders of "take no prisoners" the captured troops were summarily executed in one of the notorious war crimes of the Second World War, the massacre of the Aqui Division.
To the front of the property there was a small ramshackle garage, added by the troops to park the captain's car. Strangely it was this garage that gave us the most chilling emotion as we walked past. I suppose it was a direct connection back to that horror.
We continued down the road, walking past a ruined settlement which for some reason our guide book neglected to mention.
It was a collection of destroyed houses which we assumed were damaged by the earthquake. There was a sign but only in Greek. I tried my best to double translate - first from the Greek alphabet.
I made out Choros Anaplasis Ktirion but I had to wait until later to google translate it! It meant something like Building Redevelopment Area, which didn't provide me with any more clues about what it used to be! Perhaps it was previously Dafnoudi village?
Having walked past a farm with several huge barking angry dogs secured down with heavy chains and a field with an olive tree that looked a thousand years old we reached a small sign in English and Greek for Dafnoudi Beach.
It wasn't exactly a grand entrance. To access to the path down to the beach we had to peel back a wire fence, step across then pull it back shut again.
We followed a white gravel path down into the woods. With a steady incline and loose stones beneath our feet it wasn't the easiest of walks.
It was quite challenging even with us both wearing sturdy walking sandals. I couldn't imagine how difficult it would be in flimsy flip flops. There were some sections where Julie needed a shoulder to lean on to step down drops deeper than her short legs would allow.
We were making slow progress. Another couple caught up with us. They were kitted out in full walking gear and had probably already walked from Fiskardo along the coastal path to get here.
They said "Hello" in a German accent as they strode purposefully past us.
All the effort was worth it when we arrived at the end of the path as it opened out dramatically onto the brilliant white pebbly beach with the beautiful blue-green sea. It was a small sheltered cove flanked on both sides with white limestone cliffs topped with the dark green of shrubs and bushes. In the distance, across the water, we could see the Acarnanian Mountains of mainland Greece.
It was made more idyllic by the total tranquillity. The only sound to be heard were the waves gently lapping the shore. Other than the German couple who walked past us we were the only other ones here. They were stood to the left so we naturally turned to the right to find our own quiet corner.
The pebbles were quite large and wouldn't have been comfortable to sit on and it certainly wasn't the kind of beach where you would find sun loungers!
Right in the far corner we found a smooth slab of rock with a shale almost concrete like surround. It was so kind of Mother Nature to provide us with our very own two seater sofa!
Behind where we sat was a small cave or a crack in the limestone at least which apparently was popular with monk seals who shelter there.
There were no seals around today. If I were a seal I wouldn't venture anywhere near the cove either as the other couple spent the entire time skimming pebbles and inexplicably bashing more pebbles against the rocks echoing around the cove!
Thankfully after no more than five minutes the disturbers of our peace left.
We were now left entirely on our own.
The sense of solitude sitting there with Julie in my arms, simply just being, absorbing the silent energy, was something special. One of those moments that will undoubtedly become a cherished memory.
We sat for almost half an hour, staring out towards the island of Lefkada. The view remained the same with the exception of a small ferry boat which chugged its way across, probably from Vasiliki on its way to Fiskardo.
During our time here one or two intruders came, had a brief look and left, seemingly unimpressed. Our privacy remained undisturbed.
Before leaving I explored the cove. I wanted to find a vantage point to get a better view of the beach so I scrambled (carefully) up the cliffs.
What struck me the most looking down was the incredible clarity of the water, it was so crystal clear. Even at some depth I could still see pebbles below.
I imagined diving headlong into that pure sea and swimming down to the sea bed below. Now that would have been a sensational feeling.
"Oh, if only I could swim" I sighed to myself. I really must pull my finger out and go for some lessons.
We didn't want to leave but after almost 45 minutes of blissful tranquillity we were beginning to get a bit hungry.
"We should have brought a picnic" said Julie.
As it happened we timed our departure well. On our way back up the wooded valley we came across three separate groups on their way down.
The path through the woods seemed less arduous going up. We certainly noticed our surroundings a bit more. It was a world alive with butterflies, caterpillars and the most marvellous mushrooms.
In what seemed like half the time it took to walk down we had reached the concrete road from Antipata.
Before heading back to our car we decided to have a quick look at the remains of German battlements that were nearby.
We continued to the end of the road, only some 200m away and followed the sign for the 'Battaria'. The path was initially wide enough for you to drive up but it soon narrowed and quite rough.
Blue and white markings painted onto stones lead us on our way or at least we thought. Our little guide book said turn left and these marked stones took us up hill to a meadow carpeted with a strange and beautiful plant, red and black in colour with a white feathering similar to a thistle.
There was certainly nothing else of interest up here, only a stone wall that once was part of something bigger but that was it. Nothing more military than that. In fact the only army positions we came across were a colony of ants! Oh, that and an airborne division of spiders!
They were everywhere, suspended in mid-air on a tight-rope of a web, strung from one tree to another. How on earth they managed to span such a distance I will never know. It was nothing short of miraculous.
I know some spiders can jump but seriously they would have needed to have grown wings to fly across the 2 or 3 metres!
Most of them were well above our heads, high enough for Julie not to notice them, thankfully. She would have been absolutely petrified.
I saw one, down at face level but it wasn't directly on the path so I didn't draw Julie's attention to it.
Instead I discreetly made my way across to have a closer look.
Sat at the heart of a splendid spider's web that must have spanned 2 metres across was a big hairy specimen. Comparatively I guess it was the size of a cherry tomato. Whilst only some spiders are deadly venomous they can all still bite! So I took care not to disturb it.
There's a bewildering amount of arachnids out there but an educated guess this was a type of Orb Weaver. I have learnt they weave spiral webs and the markings were very similar to images I saw for a species known as araneus angulatus.
After realising we were in the wrong place we returned back to the main path where it wasn't long before we came to an area that looked a disused quarry. All we could make out as being once part of the battlements were rusty iron rods sticking out of a huge lump of concrete, the remains of a cannon position.
Feeling underwhelmed we both said in unison "There must be more somewhere". We continued along the path in search of more but we didn't find any. The guide book recounted the story of two teenagers who discovered the site after the wall and sadly blew themselves up.
The path gradually narrowed until it came to a sudden end. We had come to a rocky ledge overlooking the straits across to Lefkada.
The best seats in the house were already taken by a young couple and their mad barking hellhound of a dog. It looked like the breed you imagined guarding the gates of Hades. It was skin and bones and looked very hungry. Whilst its tail was wagging its face wasn't smiling!
Our presence was clearly disturbing the peace so we turned on our heels and left, back down the path. Looking at everything from a different angle we still didn't come across anything more impressive than the inglorious lump of concrete we saw earlier.
Thoroughly unimpressed we got back onto the road and walked rather wearily back up towards the village of Antipata.
What caught our interest on the way up was this ancient olive tree. Its trunk appeared to be a knotted amalgamation contorting itself upwards. Its primeval body (if I had to guess I would say it was over a thousand years old!) looked incapable of sustaining life but from the twisted torso sprouted three thick branches each bursting with healthy green leaves.
The only other thing to mention as we walked up was that we overheard from a small house on the side of the road what sounded like an old man being beaten up.
We could hear someone shouting, then a thud followed by silence. He then started up again only to stop with the thud. This happened quite a few times. I'm sure we heard the word "polizia" amidst the increasingly pitiful outbursts. I'm ashamed to say that we put our heads down and carried on walking. We didn't want to get caught up in whatever was happening. It was so cowardly of us but of course it simply could have been someone watching television!
We reached the taverna on the corner, under the pine tree, known as To Pefko. It was well past lunch time and we were proper hungry so we sat down outside and asked for the menu.
Thankfully they had an English language one for us tourists. Julie went for chicken on the grill with a lemon dressing and wild rice whilst I ordered a dish called gigantes, a butter bean dish that I was familiar with and also some courgette fritters known as kolokithokeftedes which I had never heard of before.
"Ah you're a vegetable" said the waitress "me also!"
"Yes, that's right" I replied without correcting her. She was quite friendly and chatty. Julie thought she was too chatty!
In a short space of time we had a discussion about why did the English follow the French lead in calling a zucchini a courgette when they dislike each other so much.
"I know about the fingers" she said referring to the origin of, (as she put it)"the flicking of the Vs", the two finger insult coming from the English archers goading their French counterparts that they were still able to shoot their arrows.
Julie may have had a point!
The food arrived and surpassed our expectations for a little roadside caff. Julie's chicken was perfectly cooked, moist and seasoned well with oregano and the lemon dressing. She didn't care much about the rice but that wasn't their fault.
My gigantes was tasty and as the name suggested, I had gigantic plump beans smothered in a rich tomato sauce.
As good as they were the courgette fritters were ten times better! Crispy on the outside, soft and creamy on the inside. They tasted delicious, fresh and light with a delicate hint of the local Kefalotiri cheese, dill and parsley.
I absolutely adored them.
The bill came to €23.50 which may have been a little expensive for the quantity but perfectly acceptable for the quality!
Back in the car we rolled the short distance downhill to Fiskardo, a busy fishing village and harbour which is very popular with the yachting fraternity.
We parked at the side of the main road and walked down into the village. Finding our way to the harbour front was very straightforward. I have to admit our first impressions were a little critical. We didn't think much of it at all!
Fiskardo is often cited as the only place on Kefalonia not to have been raised to the ground by the 1953 earthquake. With much of it's original Venetian architecture intact I was expecting something stunning to at least rival Assos but what we found was nothing remotely as beautiful.
The weather had also turned blustery and threatening rain which added to our disappointment. We carried on regardless, walking along the quayside past several restaurants and sleek stylish boats tightly moored. As busy as the marina seemed there was absolutely nobody about. It was a bit of a ghost town.
We continued out towards a large hotel at the end of the harbour called Nicolas Taverna. The Greek flag on its flagpole was held stiff in the breeze.
On this side of the harbour it appeared to be more of a working port and was slightly more interesting because of it. Mounds of bright yellow nets were placed on the quay but we didn't see any fishing boats. I suppose they were all out at sea. Ferry boats from Vasiliki on Lefkada and Frikes on Ithaca also docked here.
Being as near the sea as you could get we were expecting things to get a bit fishy so it was rather peculiar to catch an unexpected whiff of garlic!
The huge cloud of the distinctive odour was explained as we got nearer to a pick-up truck parked on the quay. The back of which was filled with thousands upon thousands of garlic bulbs. It was quite a sight!
This young lad came walking towards us with several strings of garlic bulbs across each shoulder. He said something in Greek to us and carried on his way laughing to himself. (Possibly at us and not with us!)
At the end of the harbour, past Nicolas Taverna, we reached a path that signposted a Venetian lighthouse and a church.
At first we were a little hesitant, mainly because we had changed our footwear from sturdy walking sandals to flimsy flip flops and stylish hessian Toms. (They were a bit like deck shoes to keep up with the ya-ya yachty types.)
In the end we went for it and I'm glad we decided to do so. The path was well maintained, not at all rough underfoot and only a short distance to the lighthouse.
At first we mistook a dull and uninspiring relatively modern lighthouse as the Venetian one and felt a little cheated.
Thankfully the rather boring square column wasn't the 500 year old lighthouse but a British built tower which appeared to be still in use today.
Kefalonia and all the other Ionian Islands came under British rule at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. (1814) It was a further fifty years later until they were eventually unified with Greece. In fact the 150th anniversary of that moment on the 21st May 1864 was this Wednesday!
Anyway, just around the corner we found the charming 16th century Venetian lighthouse, positioned at the edge of the small peninsula, protecting the straits of Ithaca.
For a lighthouse it wasn't very big or especially tall. I imagine that a great fire would have been lit on top, as a beacon and a mirror would reflect the light as a beam across the straits. It was built into the walls of an enclosed garden of a small property which we assumed would have been home to a lighthouse keeper.
We stood here for quite some time gazing out across the water to the island of Ithaca, the fabled home of Odysseus from one of Greek Mythology's best loved tales, Homer's Odyssey.
As idyllic as the location was it didn't quite turn out to be the place for peaceful contemplation. We had noticed a distant noise. What it was soon became apparent as we were surrounded by a hundred goats. Each and every one of them had a crude clanging bell around their necks.
The closer they came the noise built up into an almighty wall of sound that was truly overwhelming.
It was so loud that it affected our balance. The last time we experienced anything like it was in the pit at a Motorhead gig!
Accompanying the racket was also a pungent stomach churning stink of goat. We couldn't wait to get out of there but they laid siege to the lighthouse, briefly blocking our only exit route.
Fortunately they were constantly on the move swooping in formation across the scrubland, so it wasn't long before there was an opportunity for us to leave the sanctuary of the walled garden and make a dash for freedom.
We headed up hill, as quickly as we could, away from the lighthouse and the goats towards the remains of a 6th century Byzantine church. A little out of breath we rested on the stone walls inside the church. Very little remained of the structure and what did appeared quite precarious.
"One decent quake and it would all come tumbling down" I said like I was some kind of structural engineer stating the obvious!
We didn't hang around for too long, the clanging chimes of Kefalonia's Caprine Calypso Band were on its way!
The walk back towards the harbour gave us a lovely panoramic view of Fiskardo which actually made rethink our first impression. It was still nowhere near the jaw-dropping beauty of Assos but we could appreciate its charm more from this angle.
Just after the port area and before the chic restaurants we came across garlic boy. Once again he was chuckling to himself, this time giving me a "high five".
I smiled back at him despite knowing that he probably wasn't offering his hand for a friendly slap but was instead insulting me with a moutza, a traditional Greek gesture in the "shove it" category of insults.
It wasn't thrusted in my face or overtly aggressive but his palm was in my direction with his fingers widely spread. The little sod!
The harbour front was still quiet. There was but a smattering of other people, mostly sitting down having lunch.
It must be a strange life living in a tourist destination such as Fiskardo where the population explodes over the summer season and then disappears over winter. It must be difficult for local businesses, many shut up shop outside the tourist season enduring a long hard winter hoping they saved enough to carry them through.
In a small square, just off the end of the harbour, we came across an ornamental pond filled with koi carp and with a very odd statue of a toad in the middle. It looked so out of place.
On this square was a small supermarket called Dimoulas. After the (literally) mini markets of Assos it was nice to find a larger store with much more choice. Julie and I always enjoy shopping for groceries when we travel. You always come across stuff that's unique to where you are, something that's so different to home.
Here it was the frozen octopus and the bucket sized yogurt pots that made it a distinctly Greek experience.
There was an excellent choice of fresh fruit and vegetables here so we picked up a wicker basket full of mushrooms, courgettes, peppers, potatoes, garlic, onions, strawberries and bananas. We also decided on having a barbecue this evening and picked up a whole chicken, a large bag of charcoal and some olive oil.
I couldn't leave without one of those buckets of yogurt. There were plenty to choose from and of course I went for the creamiest most expensive one.
Weighed down with two large carrier bags full we struggled up the hill back to the car. Unfortunately we had only completed half the shopping list, we still needed some alcohol!
A little weary we decided to move the car as near to the supermarket as we could get. The shortest route was the way we had walked up but there was a no entry sign at the junction. Whilst we were thinking about alternative ways a local in a battered old car drove down ignoring the sign.
"Perhaps it doesn't mean No Entry in Greece!" suggested Julie.
So before we changed our minds I quickly followed it down the street, turning a blind eye to the red circle with a white bar across its centre which clearly meant No Entry in any language.
Luckily nobody saw us and we safely parked up at the bottom of the hill next to a derelict building that actually had a blue plaque on it with the words Migrants of Erisos. We wondered what it was. It certainly didn't look like a millennia old structure. It was more of a dilapidated garage.
Anyway, back in the supermarket we stocked up on some beer, 6 bottles of Fix, a bottle of Robola wine at €3 cheaper than in Assos, and a huge 1.5 litre plastic bottle of cheap white wine.
"That's going to taste like piss" I said but at €1.85 per litre it was worth the risk!
We had also forgotten to buy some matches an essential commodity for any barbecue! However, when we looked they didn't sell single matchboxes. We ended up having to buy a pack of twelve!
So, loaded with a thousand matches and a bag full of booze we returned to the car. I was glad it was just around the corner.
The quickest way back was to return the way we came through, Germenata, Antipata and so on. As we drove through Magganos we decided to stop. There was a fork in the road where a little square was formed, with a tree, a cafe and a souvenir shop.
It could have had the potential to be a nice little piazza but it was still just a fork in the road.
The main reason why we stopped was to have a look around the fruit and veg shop Magganaras. We didn't want for anything but ended up buying a bottle of Alpha beer (just because it was another one for me to tick off the list!), 6 litre bottles of water, 2 large pork chops and a very large apple.
As expected from a fruit and veg supplier there was a vast choice. We probably would have bought more provisions if it wasn't for the fact we ran out of money. We left with only 30 cents in our pocket!
Ten minutes down the road we stopped again, this time for the wonderful view over Assos. We could even see the road to our apartment snaking around the hill above the village.
Such a shame the sunset was a few hours away. This would have been a perfect place to experience it. It was still a bit overcast however so a stunning sunset was probably not on the cards tonight.
Back in the car we meandered ourselves down into Assos, this time without the cow obstacle, finally getting back to our villa about 6:30pm.
It had been a long day out and the last thing we wanted to do now was to fire up a barbecue. Instead we went for the easy option and popped two large potatoes in the oven. I also whizzed up a sort of Tirokafteri a feta and chilli pepper dip.
I cooked for Julie one of the huge chops. It must have been from a Wild Boar or something even more prehistoric and gargantuan.
We sat outside to eat. It's always nice to be able to dine al fresco. It makes supper a more relaxing event. Even the very cheap wine didn't spoil it.
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