Ten Days in May

Happy Brithday to You and the Union
21st May 2014


"Happy Birthday my sweet Aphrodite! " was my rather cheesy Facebook status update this morning.

Today was Julie's birthday which she reluctantly shared with the 150th anniversary of the Ionian Island's unification with Greece. It not so much stole her thunder but certainly robbed her of a lazy stay in bed as I had planned a grand day out for us with a trip to the island's capital Argostoli to catch some celebrations.

I got up early to get a few things done before we left. I wasn't looking forward to cleaning the barbecue and was so relieved to find it as spotless as it was before we used it! The pool guy who comes around every morning must have cleaned it for us. What great service!

That gave me enough time to take a breakfast up to Julie in bed, including a meticulously peeled, de-pithed and de-pipped juicy satsuma especially for the birthday girl. We sat there browsing some early well wishes from Facebook friends including a video of all the grandchildren singing "Happy Birthday". That was such a sweet moment. Julie cried tears of joy and must have watched it back to back about four or five times.

My urgency to leave suddenly dissipated. I felt guilty about rushing her on her birthday so I took a step back and allowed the morning to flow at a more relaxed pace.

We were staying in Argostoli tonight so we had plenty of time. With our overnight bag packed we set off for the capital just before midday. Once again we encountered an obstacle on the road out of Assos. This time it wasn't a cow but the Fruit & Veg man doing his rounds. We waited for five minutes for him to complete his business and he then pulled to one side for us to pass.

It was still a single track road so squeezing by was quite treacherous, enough for Julie to get out the car and guide me through, making sure my wheel didn't go over the edge!

We got through and finally got out of town, stopping only briefly for another photo of the table and chairs tied to the crash barriers high above Assos. I actually wanted a photo of myself sitting on the chair but I couldn't bring myself to step over the barrier. I chickened out, much to Julie's relief!

We then followed the road up to the village of Patrikata and over Mount Kalón Óros

If we thought we had seen a lot of goats the first time we came this way or at the light house in Fiskardo then we hadn't seen anything yet. We got ourselves caught in the middle of a mass exodus!

It wouldn't be an exaggeration if I estimated a drove of a thousand goats. They all followed numerous paths down from the higher ground, converging on the road and continuing down through the pass. We were totally surrounded.

Rolling our way carefully through the aromatic tribe we eventually emerged onto a clear road and sped off down into the village of Divarata.

Fuel was running a bit low, down the last 1/8th so we stopped at the first petrol station we came across, which was the village of Nifisi. We waited for service but no one came out.

"Perhaps it's a Bank Holiday here and they've all taken the day off" suggested Julie. It certainly looked that way. There was no one in sight and the pumps were switched off.

We had no choice but to set off in the hope we had enough fumes in the tank to get us to Argostoli. From there on in we free wheeled down any incline in an attempt to conserve fuel!

At the village of Drapano we stopped to take a photograph of the pretty Church of the Virgin Mary. Painted a perfect sky blue and fronted by Doric columns straight from the Athenian Handbook to Architecture it looked the part of a modern Grecian temple.

Its bell tower was a completely separate structure and painted mustard yellow which made quite a contrast.

Back in the car and we thankfully had enough juice to start the engine. We weren't far now which was lucky. The orange petrol pump light on the dashboard had started to flash!

We both sighed a collective relief when we reached Argostoli and without a moment to lose we rolled into the first petrol station we came across.

More importantly an attendant actually came out to serve us! We put in €30 which filled about 3/4 of the tank. I don't know why I just didn't ask for it to be filled. I think in the back of my head I was reluctant to return the car with more petrol in it than when we picked it up!

Buoyed with our success we parked the car on the side of the road along the promenade but quite some distance out of the city centre.

Before setting off we sat on a bench looking out across the Koutavos lagoon and ate our picnic, which was all the delicious leftovers from last night's barbecue.

We were near the Drapano Bridge. Built by the British it was a short-cut to the North cutting across the water to the village of Drapano eliminating the need to travel the entire distance around the lagoon, which back in 1813 was an infested malarial swamp.

It dog-legged itself across and in its centre stood a memorial obelisk. It's now a pedestrianised causeway although today we couldn't walk across it as it was being renovated. It did look in some disrepair.

Lunch over we walked towards the centre, wheeling our little suitcase behind us. The promenade front was pleasantly paved all the way.

We stopped for a coffee in a rather chic cafe called Coffee Mill. I had an iced coffee which apparently everyone in Greece. Called Frappe it's usually made from Nescafe instant coffee, of which I'm not a big fan. However, my iced coffee was good so I guess it was made with the real stuff!

The cafe had free wi-fi which was useful and we used Google Maps to locate the hotel. It was a five minute walk from there.

A small sign on a telegraph pole directed us from the front up a rubbish strewn side street. One of the buildings along it was just a concrete shell. It certainly wasn't the most attractive side of town.

"Where the hell have you booked us?" asked a worried Julie. I tried reassuring her that it would all be fine without knowing that for a fact. The hotel only had a 2 star rating, was cheaply priced and seemed to be down a back alley!

Eventually the alley reached Argostoli's main square, Platia Vallianou and we stood there for a while wondering where the hotel could possibly be?

Of course, in a classic comedy moment, it was behind us!

We were pleasantly surprised by Hotel Mirabel. "Well, at least it looks nice from the outside" I said hopefully.

The reception desk was empty when we walked in but this old man and I mean really old man got up from a chair in the foyer and tottered over. He was smartly dressed with a crisp white shirt and a knitted tank top, in this sunshine!? The poor fellow struggled to see our booking details even with his glasses on.

Within a minute a much younger member staff arrived and checked us in. Formalities taken care of we stepped inside the broom cupboard of an elevator and rattled up to room 445 on the 4th floor. With her heart in her mouth Julie closed her eyes all the way.

I opened the door and entered a dark windowless room and my heart sank.

However, all was not lost. As our eyes acclimatised we noticed there was another room to the left and this one had a large patio door opening out onto a spacious balcony with great views over the city rooftops and the hills beyond the lagoon.

We were pleased. It was a real Brucie Bonus!

It was so pleasant to sit out and relax on our balcony that we spent almost an hour doing just that.

I got my big lens out and took a several photos of Argostoli's red roof tiles with the odd sky blue and mustard bell tower sticking up in the middle of it all.

We could also see high in the hills the villages of Dilinata below a crazy zigzag track and Faraklata which was somewhere we were going to be staying for a few nights at the end of our stay here.

In the distance we could see Mount Ainos, Kefalonia's highest peak and further to the East we could see an impressive hilltop fort which must have been Kastro Agios Giorgios or the Castle of St. George. That's on our list of places to visit whilst staying in hills.

After a while we left our balcony and headed out for a walk around town. We began in the main square aka Platia Vallianou but also known as Constitution Square. I was expecting to see it either full of happy islanders celebrating the union with Greece or at least the preparations for tonight's party. We saw neither.

It was a large square, a big wide open space made even bigger by the fact that there was nobody there!

There was a small "stage" in the centre where something official may have taken place earlier but there certainly wasn't anything happening right now.

We ambled around gravitating to the one thing of interest in the platia, a seated statue of Panagis Vallianou. He was a wealthy businessman who donated a lot of his money into building projects in Argostoli, most notably the local hospital.

He probably also paid for his own statue!

Running west from the square was an attractive palm fringed street that had a few shops, cafe bars and restaurants. It continued dead straight for quite some distance which actually put us off walking down it.

Instead we left the square behind and headed down towards the waterfront, stopping along the way to buy some hats. It was a warm sun today and I could feel that my scalp could do with some protection! They weren't cheap at €12 and €9 each but I really liked mine so I decided it was money well spent.

Down at the waterfront we strolled around looking at the luxury yachts moored at the quay.

As we continued towards the ferry terminal we noticed there was a car park where none of the vehicles were displaying tickets nor was there a pay point to buy any tickets.

That's when we decided to move the car closer to the centre, both agreeing it would be a lot easier in the morning.

Off we traipsed back along waterfront. We could have walked on the shady side of the street, along the busy pavements but we had our sun hats on so we decided to stay on the front.

Knowing that the Koutavos lagoon was popular for its Loggerhead Turtles and how they often swam up to the waterfront we kept on having a look in the water but we saw none and gave up looking in the end.

One of the few buildings on this side of the street was a colourful meat market or kreopoleio (butchers). As it was late afternoon it was of course all shut for the day.

We could see the Drapano Bridge getting closer and closer. When we reached the causeway we were struck by the pretty church directly opposite. I was surprised we hadn't noticed it much earlier.

Ekklisia Panagia was of course a modern new build with a pretty colonnaded patio along one side. It looked more Spanish than Greek painted in white yellow and red. It definitely wouldn't have been out of place in Seville.

From here it took us only a few minutes to reach our car. "Oh good" said Julie "it's still here!" It's not that car theft or crime in general is a particular problem on the island. It was simply her worse-case-scenario thoughts working overtime again!

Anyway, we scooted down the road to the car park and double checked for parking tickets before leaving.

On foot we continued along the waterfront. I knew there was a lighthouse at the end of road but I wasn't too sure how far.

We walked past the ferry terminal where the boat to Lixouri was in, which got me thinking.

"I fancy that tomorrow" I said.

So we checked the price at their office and agreed that at least it would be something different and interesting to do rather than just driving straight home to our villa. Lixouri is a half hour ferry away but still on Kefalonia. It was like "island hopping" but not!

Onwards we walked as the waterfront became a little more rough and ready. We came to a statue of Nikos Kavvadias a famous poet (well, famous around these parts) .

He stood leaning on a plinth staring wistfully out to sea. He was actually born in China to Greek parents from Lixouri and spent his life as a sailor who wrote poems about his travels.

There were a few restaurants along here and we checked out a few menus for tonight. Not surprisingly they were all very fish orientated.

We rounded the corner and just beyond a bizarre modernist concrete tourist information centre we stopped at cafe called Kyani Akti or at least I think it was?

If my Greek translation was correct it meant the Deep Blue Coast. It was located right on the water front, in fact we sat over the turquoise water on a small shaded pier.

Through the floorboards we could see and we could hear the sea lapping gently against the pillars that held us above the deep blue. Julie's not always comfortable walking down our local pier; she's always on the lookout for a rotten plank to fall through!

We weren't looking for food but ended up ordering some anyway. We simply couldn't resist!

I went for some Tiropitakia, a delicious triangular samosa-style feta filled pastry and also Kolokithokeftedes, those delicious courgette fritters, my new found favourite food. These weren't as awesome as the ones we had near Dafnoudi Beach on Monday but they were good.

Looking down the coast we decided not to continue any further towards the lighthouse, not that we seriously entertained the idea in the first place.

Instead we did what any discerning holidaymaker would do and returned to the main square, found a bar and enjoyed a few ice cold beers. The time was spent mostly checking out Trip Advisor for restaurant choices. We ended up selecting one that was quite literally at the back of our hotel. No need for a taxi or a long walk. Perfect!

We returned to our hotel room and spent the rest of the afternoon on our balcony sipping some ultra-cheap wine from a large plastic bottle.

The sun slowly set enhancing the warmth of the red tiled rooftops. It looked lovely.

After a brief snooze we refreshed ourselves and headed out for the evening.

It was really disappointing to see there were still no celebrations in the main square. I guess with the state of the Greek economy and the severe austerity measures enforced on them after their multi-billion euro bail out there wasn't much appetite for a party. There were only a handful of people out. I guess it was still early.

We did our best to liven the place up by ourselves but after a while we decided it was best to have our supper then return later to see if there's more revelry.

Casa Grec was both number one on Trip Advisor and conveniently located just around the corner.

It didn't look very promising as we entered a dark empty reception room. We stood there in the dark for a minute until a waitress happened by chance to walk in. She greeted us nicely enough and asked us to follow her.

She turned on her heels and scooted out the back into a charming courtyard. With a lattice screen for a ceiling it felt as if we were still inside. It had a cosy feel to it. The rustic exterior walls were tastefully decorated with curious bits and pieces.

Sometimes when you walk into an empty restaurant you worry that it perhaps isn't as good as the on-line reviewers made out it was but thankfully outside in the courtyard it was quite busy.

We were served by a lady who we assumed was the owner. She had a broad American accent but looked thoroughly Greek. She explained the specials menu which was only available in Greek.

I didn't have much variety to choose from but I ordered a bread salad and an Aubergine and Halloumi bake. Both were tasty and fresh. Julie went for a griddled chicken with sauté potatoes. She surprised herself by admitting she enjoyed the green beans most!

At €32 it was the most we had spent on a meal so far but it did include a litre of the house wine so we felt it was acceptable value for money. However whilst the quality was fine it wasn't in the same league as Plantanos.

We left Casa Grec and returned to Platia Vallianou which was livelier by now but not exactly buzzing with sweet union revelry!

At the same corner as our hotel there was a trendy looking cafe bar called La Sapino Noir, the sort of place the young and beautiful frequent. Just our kind of place!

I tried a new beer experience called a Fix dark which was a much stronger flavoured malty beer. It was tasty and certainly full-bodied but I soon reverted to type for the next round with my preferred lighter lager.

The atmosphere was quite sedate and not the raucous celebrations I was expecting for such an auspicious event but it made for a very pleasurable evening.

Time flew and before we knew it was gone 1am!

We were both rather tipsy to say the least so it we called it a night and headed back to our hotel.

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