Ten Days in May
the deep blue
After leaving it all to do until this morning we were up a lot earlier than we wanted to be today. With a 10am "check-out" we rushed around frantically wiping down the messy kitchen, stacking the dishwasher (twice!). We squeezed in a breakfast of mostly left-over food and packed our suitcase ready for our move to Faraklata.
We left a little late but Adrianna was absolutely fine about. "Don't worry. I still have two or three hours of cleaning in this villa first!" she joked.
It was sad to leave Assos but we were equally excited for the next segment of our holiday.
So with the car packed we wasted no more time and set off. As we drove down the road out of Assos and after the rogue cow and the fruit & veg man we wondered what obstacle maybe in our way today.
We didn't get very far before having to stop. We found it hilarious when we came to a "Street Closed" sign.
A little further there was some kind of crane in the road. What were the chances of that?
After a perfectly executed three point turn we drove down into the square by the harbour just to see it one more time.
Up and over the mountain pass, driving like a local, not stopping once to photograph a goat, we reached Divinarata in no time. We weren't going straight to Faraklata but were going to take the long way round down the East coast.
First stop was Agia Efimia, a sleepy fishing village huddled around a small bay.
We hadn't planned on stopping but it looked so nice that we pulled up at the side of the road. It wasn't as alluring as Assos, I don't think anywhere ever will but it was lovely.
It also felt less touristy than Fiskardo retaining a certain charm.
We walked past a small shingle beach towards the harbour area where a few yatchs were moored.
Craving coffee we found a small cafe called Asteria or possibly also known as Stars. Another cafe with multiple identities!
This liver spotted old lady dressed in black shuffled out to serve us. We asked for coffee.
"Which one?" she asked.
"Greek" I replied which was met with an approving nod.
She then turned to Julie and asked "Nescafe?" Julie was slightly offended!
Two very strong Greek coffees were brought to our table.
At first the unfiltered drink was more of a ground coffee suspension. The first few sips were gravelly and needed some chewing.
However, after a minute or two it settled into a tasty cup of coffee as long as we were mindful of not disturbing the dark sludge at the bottom.
Next door there was a popular bakery. There was a constant stream of locals popping in for their pastries or daily bread.
As soon as we finished our coffee I couldn't wait to pop in myself to buy a snack. They didn't have much variety on offer but I did notice huge pan au raisin that looked delicious. I do like a good pan au raisin.
In the end, what I decided to buy was a spanakopita, a spinach and feta pie which is another big favourite of mine.
This variety was like a burek, where the filling was rolled and wrapped in pastry then curled around into a loosely oval shape.
"It would be a shame not to eat it whilst it's still warm" I said.
So I ate it immediately and oh my lord it was tasty. It was also large enough to share (a little) with Julie. We had devoured it all before we even got off the harbour. Costing only €1.50 we should have bought two!
Back in the car we travelled down the coast road passing secluded little bays that looked like great little spots to experience some private beach time.
It wasn't long before we turned off the road at Karavomylos, a resort district just outside Sami. We were heading for one of Kefalonia's most popular attractions, the Melissani Lake.
It was a very short distance uphill when we parked in a large empty car park. There was a temporary looking marquee in its middle. At first we couldn't find the entrance to the lake, only a gift shop and cafe. Eventually, in another corner of this large gazebo, we found the turnstiles which led to the steps down to the lake.
Melissani Lake is or at least was an underground lake inside a large cave system. The roof collapsed over one section centuries ago revealing the water inside.
We paid €7 each to enter. At the opening to the tunnel there was a plaque which commemorated the legend of the lake in which the nymph Melissani drowned herself distraught with unrequited love for the god Pan. This isn't the lake of legend but it did inspire its name.
Halfway down the gradual steps my camera ran out of battery power!
Thankfully it wasn't busy and after checking with the ticket office I ran back to the car for a fresh battery pack. I was back with Julie in the tunnel within two minutes, a little out of breath but at least we hadn't missed the boat.
Actually I needn't have rushed. A couple were already waiting in the boat but we waited a further five minutes at least until all the spaces were filled.
From where we sat the lake looked phenomenal. It was the best vantage point, sat in the shade looking across the spectacular blue water and up the craggy sides towards the opening.
With ten on board we set off. Our captain and guide rolled into one rowed out into the middle of the crystal blue water.
"Here it is 15 metres deep" he said "and over there, where it is dark blue, it's nearer 30m deep."
The water enters the cave from one end and flows out the other. He explained the geological phenomenon of the source of the water.
On the West of the island, at Katavothresis near Argostoli, the sea floods into sink holes in the limestone and then disappears underground, travelling across the island through a network of subterranean rivers, through the Melissani Lake and out into the sea a short distance away from here.
After offering to take photos of all the couples on the boat (which we politely declined) we moved on.
I would have struggled to row an empty boat let alone one with ten people on board but this guy had arms like Popeye and had no difficulty rowing us all towards the corner of the lake where the water continued into another chamber.
The channel narrowed to almost the width of the boat in some parts. There wasn't any need to row at this point as the flow of water was concentrated and pulled us through.
Here we entered a cave where the roof was still intact. Of course despite withstanding thousands of years of earthquakes Julie was concerned about its imminent collapse!
Once through the channel it opened out into a lake once more. It was all dimly lit but our guide had a torch with him to point towards areas of interest.
The entire ceiling was covered with stalagmites all dripping down towards us and we could see a few bats flapping about.
"It's only 3m thick" he said about the roof which raised Julie's anxiety up a notch.
To her relief we didn't stay long. He turned the boat around and began to row back towards the light.
Despite his physical prowess even he couldn't row against the tide and used ropes tied to the cave walls to pull us along.
Back in the middle of the brilliant blue we floated for a while to absorb its breath-taking beauty.
Our time was over too soon. We couldn't help but think that we were a little short changed for the entrance fee. Then again it was a special place.
We moored back up at the concrete pontoon where getting out of the boat was rather ungraceful but at least no one fell in!
Back in the car after easily resisting the temptation of the gift shop we drove the short distance to Sami. It was much larger than any of the other "fishing villages" we had visited. It was definitely of "town" proportions.
Sami is Kefaloni's main port from where during the high season you can catch ferries to Bari and Brindisi in Italy.
We headed down to the harbour front where we struggled to find somewhere to park.
We pulled into the first space we found only to be asked to move by the owner of a restaurant!
He had the look of a Russian, blond hair and steely eyes. We certainly weren't going to argue with him !
To be fair he only wanted us to roll forward a little so that we didn't block the direct route from the kitchen to tables on the quayside.
As it happened it was a restaurant called Dolphins which was recommended in our little Kefalonia Guide. So it was probably where we were going to have lunch.
Before we fed our hunger we went for a walk along the port's promenade. This side of the dock was a busy working harbour with several colourful fishing boats bobbing about in the gorgeous blue green water.
A little further a breakwater jutted out. Luxury yachts were moored along its length and on one rather nice boat we saw some well-spoken English couples all enjoying the trappings of their wealth.
The contrast couldn't be more apparent between the well-heeled seafarers quaffing wine by the glass and the humble fisherman busy tending to his nets. It added so much character to an otherwise unremarkable town.
Having reached the end of the pier we returned back along the promenade.
This time we stopped at the Monument to the Unknown Sailor, a memorial to all those whose lives were lost to the sea.
The statue of the sailor looked a little peculiar. Its proportions were all wrong. I don't know if it was intentional but he was tall and thin in the extreme. A proper beanpole!
It was still nonetheless a poignant reminder of the perils at sea.
At Restaurant Dolphins we sat nearest the dock for an uninterrupted view across the bay towards Ithaca.
We ordered our food which came very promptly. Julie had lamb chops with potatoes. I couldn't resist and suggested I hadn't seen many lambs on the island but I had seen plenty of goats!
She told me to shut up and not put her off her food. "Only kidding" I added. The pun deserved the groan it got from her.
I had grilled veg platter which was a plate full of long green peppers, courgette, aubergine and girasole mushrooms. Tasty enough without being spectacular.
There wasn't much else to do in Sami itself that didn't involve eating or drinking so we got back in the car. In our little guide book it mentioned a nice beach at Antisamos a short distance away and also up in the hills a derelict village called Dihalia which was used as a film set for Captain Corell's Mandolin.
However instead we decided on the Drogarati Caves.
We drove along the Argostoli road for less than a kilometre and turned off to the right where another large empty car park welcomed us.
When I got my camera I noticed we had a stow away. This striking cricket was sat on our back seat hitching a ride. It hung around just long enough for me to photograph it before it popped clear out of the car and into the bushes.
The entrance to the cave was clearly signed so I headed towards it. Meanwhile Julie headed towards one of the two cafes nearby.
She had read that it could get a little slippery underfoot and as she's not the most stable on her feet when she believes she may slip she decided the experience was not for her!
At the turnstiles I paid €5 to get in and then walked through a wooded area down some gentle sloping steps until coming to quite a steep and narrow section.
Under certain damp conditions I guess they could have been slippery but today they were fine. There was also a sturdy handrail for support all the way down.
In some places they were really quite steep. Julie would have hated them but taken with care they weren't too onerous.
The first view of the caves was confusing yet impressive! Confusing in that it was a mind bending wall of stalactites in front of me.
If it wasn't for a red carpet leading the way I wouldn't have known which way to go.
Subtly illuminated with plenty of shadows to hide it was an eerie space. It was so quiet down here with my heavy breathing the only sound in my ears. It was even spookier as I was entirely on my own.
Undaunted I followed the red carpet.
A wonderful adventurous feeling soon came over me as I ventured further into the cavern. It opened out into a much larger chamber with a breathtaking display of stalactites and stalagmites.
I can always remember that stalactites come down from the ceiling because "you pull tights down" and the stalagmites, by default, come up from the ground. (I have no idea where that memory jogger came from? Some 70s sexist comedian by the sounds of it!)
A better one is that the 'c' in stalactite is for ceiling and the 'g' in stalagmite is for ground. However, that does hinge on remembering that it is actually stalactite and not stalagtite!
With the place completely to myself I followed the path around some magnificent columns of limestone formed over thousands of years. Steps then lead me further down to the base of the chamber from where the view of the entire cave was awe inspiring.
Caves have always fascinated me. I find them a thing of beauty. A subterranean wonderland.
I spent a good 10 minutes marvelling at the never ending twisting dripping shapes formed by the limestone deposits. I left the caves just as a family of four were arriving. I couldn't have time the visit any better.
When I re-joined Julie at the cafe she was chuckling to herself watching this couple taking pictures of each other. The woman was draped over the bonnet of the car like some motor magazine photo shoot. It was hilarious!
When they left, our entertainment was over so we also made our way to our car.
Back on the Argostoli road we climbed up to the base of Mount Aenos from where the views down the coast and across towards Argostoli were glorious. It seemed too busy of a road to stop for a photograph so down the other side we rolled.
At the village of Razata, near to the junction for Faraklata we stopped at a mini market for some supplies. With a bag load of life's essentials, such as water and chocolate, we turned for Faraklata.
We didn't have a map or any detailed directions. We thought it would be simple enough to find in a small village. With our eyes peeled we drove slowly through Faraklata looking for a sign for the Hotel Museum George Molfetas. When we reached Dilinata, the next village, we realised we must have missed it!
Fortunately after a 3-point turn and a return cruise through Faraklata we spotted a small green sign near a church.
At first we attempted to drive up the lane towards the hotel but quickly realised that it was getting narrower as we climbed up the hill. It was sensible to roll back down, park on the main road and return to the lane on foot.
About half way up we came to a door with several stickers such as TripAdvisor and Visa/Mastercard. I knocked and entered and found myself in the back kitchen.
"Oops" I said.
"Hello, hello" said somebody scurrying down the steps.
"I'll meet you at the main door" he said "just a little further up"
When we came to the solid oak doors in the wall they opened and there stood the same gentleman. Tall, slender with a brilliant white beard, he beamed a big smile.
He introduced himself as Barry and his partner Katernia. She came over to us oozing friendliness. "Welcome, welcome, welcome" she said and gave Julie a big hug. "This is so nice"
It was such an incredibly warm welcome. It couldn't have been more from my own mother!
We entered a stunning courtyard. There was a distinctive Tuscan farmhouse style over in one corner where the walls were washed in a warm ochre colour. Another area was alive with an abundance of plants.
It felt so inviting.
Katerina noticed the bites on Julie's arm and offered to lop off a piece of Aloe Vera to sooth the irritation. Barry explained that the natural antiseptic properties of Aloe Vera was by far the best treatment. It was such a kind offer.
"Something to drink perhaps?" asked Katerina
We sat down in the shade of a large parasol and had a glass of wine. I soon had the company of Gloria the cat who settled on my lap. She stayed there all afternoon. I felt honoured.
We weren't alone in the courtyard. There was another couple eating. We chatted with them.
Andreas was a dentist from America. You could tell his trade by his impeccable teeth. He and his wife weren't staying at the hotel but were visiting Faraklata to try and trace his ancestors. His grandfather came from this village and they were hoping to meet some long lost relatives.
Then an unmistakable South Walian accent came tumbling down from the balcony overlooking the courtyards where another couple were dinning.
She shouted down introducing herself as Mary from Llanelli. She was in conversation with Katernia. We didn't have to eavesdrop, her voice echoed around the courtyard.
A "bubbly character" was one way to describe her but as infectious as her laughter was, it was nice when she eventually left. There was a calmness after her storm.
The only sound to be heard was a curious buzz in the air like a bee swarm and also the snapping of Emma the dog's jaw as she attempted to catch some rogue bees.
She was a beautiful dog, very elegant and good natured. She reminded us of our old dog Tyler.
Barry joined us and kept us company whilst Katerina showed the other couple around the hotel rooms. He was a fascinating guy.
He explained that the strange hum we could here was in fact bees but not a swarm just the way the sound collected due to the shape of the hillside.
A career physicist and then a Professor of Physics, he also once had a small holding near Aberystwyth breeding Turkeys whilst still lecturing at a University in the midlands. He even found time to be playing in a band during this period.
We connected over music. He reeled off the names of several blues guitarist who I'd never heard of before until he mentioned Stevie Ray Vaughan. You could tell he took his love of music as seriously as if it were a science. He was exceptionally knowledgeable on all that was of interest to him.
The bells of the Saint Kyriaki Orthodox Church next door chimed on the hour and Barry decided to show us the various rooms available as Katernia was still busy.
The first one he took us into was called 'Eros', after the Roman god of love.
We entered under an arch, then through a heavy wooden door. It had panes of glass which let some light into a small hallway from which we then stepped up and over a ridge into the room.
It was a lovely room with antique furniture, exposed beams and the occasional natural stone revealed in the plaster. It had so much character.
Katerina, Andreas and his wife were still in the room chatting away. "Isn't this a beautiful room?" she said.
"As long as you don't mind being watched having a shower" added Barry with a cheeky grin.
There were no other guests staying tonight so we could have the pick of all the rooms. There were five in all, each with a different theme.
Katernia offered to give us the tour but we were more than happy to stay in this one, the room dedicated to love.
"This is perfect" she said "This is the room I would have picked for you!"
We arranged to have our supper around 8:30pm. Enough time for us to have a decent siesta. The room was prefect for a good sleep. We sunk into the bed, the linen was luxurious, the pillows were soft and the red light from the bedside lamps gave a warm cosy glow to the room.
To help send us on our way to a blissful slumber we listened to a homemade compilation of love songs expertly chosen by our hosts.
We came around a few hours later. We took it in turn to watch each other shower before heading up to the restaurant.
Barry offered us the choice of eating outside on the balcony or inside. As it was a cooler evening we opted to go in.
The room had a homely feel to it. Family portraits hung on the lush olive green walls and a collection of hats artistically decorated another wall.
These were of course connected to George Molfetas, all family heirlooms and were the museum pieces alluded to in the title of Museum Hotel. They were subtle enough not to make you feel as if you were dining in a stuffy museum. The only concession was a display of books and his portrait on a small table in the centre of the room.
George Molfetas was a 19th century satirical poet and also published a weekly newspaper on life in Kefalonia. Katerina Dima was his great-niece.
We settled down for our supper and it began with a bountiful basket of bread accompanied with two dips, a spearmint infused oil and a yogurt dip laced with a nice hint of cumin.
Katerina apologised that she did not have time to bake the bread herself and that these were shop bought. We wouldn't have known if she hadn't told us. The bread was fresh and delicious.
You could tell that she was eager for everything to be perfect for us and this was for a meal which was thrown in as complimentary plus a litre of wine included in our price.
Next up we shared a sensational beetroot salad. Slices of marinated beetroot topped with a garlic yogurt and sprinkled liberally with chopped walnuts. The combination of flavours and textures was exceptional. (It became our favourite dish of the whole trip and the one we attempt to re-create at home the most!)
We had the company of Emma and Gloria for most of the evening. Gloria was especially interested when Julie's main course of fish arrived!
Barry did check that we were alright with having the pets around. We were of course fine with them. They weren't a bother at all. Some people could be funny about it but we felt so at home that it felt natural to have them around.
Katerina came through with Julie's fish on the plate to show her how wonderful it looked as one whole piece before taking it away to be filleted.
Julie has a love/hate relationship with fish, she loves the taste but has a fear of choking on a bone and when she came across one in her mouth her confidence suddenly evaporated and she struggled to each much more.
I on the other hand had no problem in devouring my cheese soufflé. It looked a little unorthodox spread flat on the plate over some salad leaves, (I joked perhaps it may be the Greek way) but it tasted amazing and I shovelled it down clearing the plate in no time.
Katerina was concerned that I was still hungry but I explained that contrary to Greek custom I always leave the plate clean if I've enjoyed the meal.
I reassured her that I had eaten plenty to take away any hunger but with food this tasty I would continue to eat until she had no more to give!
After dessert Barry and Katerina joined us and we talked and talked.
We had a great deal in common. We shared a love of food that was for sure and music featured high in our lives. Then of course we talked proudly and passionately about our children and grandchildren.
We had a great laugh. We found them utterly fascinating and genuinely lovely people.
We couldn't believe the time when we first had the inclination to check. It was 1am!
Time had flown by so quickly. We continued chatting for a while and I'm sure we could have carried on until sunrise! However we agreed that it was sensible to bring the evening to a close.
Back in our room we put on the bespoke CD and melted away into our dreams listening to the soulful voice of Cesaria Evora.
It had been a wonderful evening.
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