Ten Days in May

Kefalonia Rocks
25th May 2014

We enjoyed a really good night's sleep.

As we stirred we were woken up by someone singing. We later found out that he was the fishmonger singing his gentle melody to let you know he was doing his rounds with the fresh catch of the day.

The other tradesmen who followed weren't as considerate and beeped their horns to alert you to their presence. It was still a quaint tradition.

After last night's food we were eager to discover what we had in store for breakfast. In the courtyard a table had already been laid. 

From the kitchen we could hear Katerina ask Barry "Are the kids up?" which made us smile!

Barry soon arrived with a plate full of fruits, melon, pear, nectarine, strawberry and kiwi all sliced and neatly presented. The glass of freshly squeezed orange juice alone was reason enough to get out of bed, full of flavour, both sweet and zesty. So good.

Next came a round of toasted bread with a selection jam, marmalade and honey served in funky little tins. I went straight for the orange marmalade. It looked so vibrant. "This is our last batch from last year's oranges" said Barry to add more weight to the tangy preserve.

There was also the ever present Greek yogurt with honey (another dish I have continued once we got home).

The yogurt was much lighter than the creamy 10% fat we had been eating all week and was better for it. Katerina said it was a 2% variety.

Then there was the beautiful honey which also light and delicate, a perfect balance.

After we had eaten we stayed in courtyard and continued where we left last night chatting with Barry and Katerina.

Discussing our plans for today Barry recommended visiting some ancient cyclopean walls just down the road at Razata. Built four thousand years ago with such precision that Barry suggested they could only have been constructed by aliens!

Katerina drew our attention to her own piece of ancient stone embedded into their wall. When the property was renovated they came across what appeared to be a fragment of a pediment.

Our plan today was to tear ourselves away from this beautiful courtyard and visit the monastery of Agios Gerasimo, Kefalonia's patron saint and then a winery nearby.

Katerina told us that the main church at the monastery perhaps lacks character but a smaller church next to it is worth a visit. "At the back of it there's a hole in the floor down to a cave where the Saint Gerasimo lived as a hermit."

She also mentioned that sitting beneath a large maple tree at the monastery is one of her favourite happy places.

Together Barry and Katerina were an unbeatable combination. The sort of couple you would desperately want on your pub quiz team. What they didn't know wasn't worth knowing!

After an hour or so we eventually made a start on our day heading out in the car back down onto the Argostoli to Sami road before turning off for the village of Falsamata.

It was much nearer than we thought. It hardly took us fifteen minutes from Faraklata.

At the village we decided to stop at a cafe called Friends. It was a lovely day so we sat outside with everyone else. All the tables were taken bar one. It was busy with locals which was fascinating for us to people watch.

In one corner three elders of the community with well-worn sour faces were huddled together clearly resigned to never putting the world to rights. Whilst at the opposite end of the patio was a couple struggling with the "chimps' tea party" chaos of trying to feed a large family of young children.

Nearest us there we had a young woman with her father, or at least a man old enough to be her father. Then there was this solitary man staring, deep in thought, passing his prayer beads between his fingers.

They all kept us entertained for quite a while. Once I had finished my Greek coffee, which came with a small plate of delicious biscuits, we left.

The Monastery of Agios Gerasimo was only a couple of minutes away. We parked up outside and walked through the large gates.

We could see the larger church ahead of us and then noticed the smaller church to our left. Taking Katerina's advice we followed the signs to its entrance.

We stepped inside a small room where a nun was busy lighting candles. It seemed we had somehow entered through the back door. Unsure if we should continue we slowly edged our way inside waiting to be challenged but no one did.

We eventually found ourselves inside the church's gloriously painted interior.

In typical orthodox style it was a covered wall and ceiling with dark frescoes. Of course as with most places in Kefalonia this was a faithful reconstruction rebuilt after the 1953 earthquake.

To our left we found the hole in the ground that Katerina had talked about. The trap door was circled by a steel barrier with a gate at one end. We both peered over into the darkness of the cave and tomb below but neither of us fancied climbing down for a closer look.

The sarcophagus containing remains of the 16th century saint now resides in the main church and is brought out twice every year on the saint's feast day, 16th August and 20th October.

It is said his body has not decomposed as one would expect for a four hundred year old corpse. Instead it has undergone a natural mummification or as the Church would have you believe has been touched by divine intervention and is a sign of his incorruptibility and holiness.

Whether it's an embalming trick or an act of God Agios Gerasimos was revered for his charity, his kindness and apparently for curing people with mental illnesses.

And it seemed those miracles are still sought after today. To the front of the church a dramatic scene was taking place. A lady was on her knees with a priest laying his hands on her head as if to exocrcize her demons, ringing peace to her troubled mind.

We left the church and sat in the shade of a large tree waiting for the promised spiritual well-being to wash over us. Hardly a minute had passed when a nun came over to us and ushered us out.

At first we thought we were being thrown out because of our summery clothing but a friendly English speaking local who was also being gently escorted off the premises said "It is closing".

It was a real shame that we hadn't come any earlier but never mind.

It was now 1pm and next on the itinerary was a visit to the winery only a short two minute drive from the monastery.

We literally had the place to ourselves. In the main building they had on display shelves upon shelves of all the various wines they produced on Kefalonia. It wasn't just Robola.

A member of staff popped up from behind the counter, welcomed us and asked if we would like a brief tour.

She took us through into the back room which opened out into a large bottling plant. It was a very clean and sterile as expected even though it wasn't in action today.

In fact the season had already ended with the next batch not due for production until the end of August. We continued through into another room where we saw several large stainless steel vats which would contain the wine prior to bottling.

She reeled off many facts about the Robola wine. A few nuggets I remember are that it would typically only take 6 weeks from grape to bottle and that it's best drunk young. It's not the type of wine that ages well.

Robola has been given PDO status by the European Union. It's similar to the other wine authenticity labels such as AOC/DOC. The Protected Designation of Origin means that only wine produced within the unique microclimate of the Omala valley can be called Robola.

Following the briefest of tours we returned to the store for a small wine tasting opportunity.

We had four varieties to sample. First, the classic Robola, the one we've seen all over the island in a cloth sleeve which we already knew was a tasty tipple. Then an organic Robola which was cleaner, clearer and more crisp and citrus in taste.

Next we tried the San Gerasimo, a more complex superior Robola with a fuller rounder finish which we liked very much.  The fourth and final wine was a red called Linos made from a blend of grapes mostly from the Lixouri peninsular.

We didn't feel obliged and we weren't put under a hard sell but we didn't need any excuses to buy some wine! We chose one of the delicious San Gerasimo and another which we hadn't tasted but was €5 more expensive, a special edition variety called Queen.

With our vino in the bag we left the winery and made our way back towards the village of Falsamata. Much of the area here was cultivated for wine, not only the slopes but also down on the valley floor. Rows upon rows of small vines flanked both sides of the road.

Within minutes, before even reaching the village we stopped at a small road side taverna called Botsol. We were just getting a little hungry. Their courtyard was shaded by a large tree and filled with tables draped with a red and white checked tablecloth. We chose to sit at a table on the pavement as we had a wonderful view of the countryside and the road was really quiet.

We browsed the menu and quickly made our choices. Julie had a lamb cutlet which she really enjoyed even though there wasn't much meat on the bone.

I struggled to find anything none meat so I defaulted and had the Greek salad. I also ordered a portion of tzaziki and some fries for us to share.The salad was as good as any I had in Kefalonia but the star of the show was the thick creamy tzaziki, perfect for scooping up with my chips!

We didn't rush. It was so relaxing grazing at the side of the road. It was as if time had slowed down to almost a stop and we really appreciated it.

Rather reluctantly we left, returning to the car and driving out of the Omala Valley.

Back on the Sami - Argostoli road we made our way towards Razata where Barry had recommended we visit the cyclopean walls. A small brown "place of interest" sign for Krani showed us the way around the houses and beyond into the countryside.

The smooth tarmac road soon ran out and we suddenly had to drive along a very rough dirt track. In our little Chevrolet Spark it felt like an off-road adventure.

Julie offered to get out and walk but I reassured her that it was fine, although even with my confidence I had to take it extremely cautiously as not to bump the under carriage. "It's a new car" was echoing around us!

At the end of the road we abandoned the car and continued on foot

What we found was simply amazing. The remains of the fortified wall stretched along the length of the hillside. It wasn't quite the Great Wall of China but it was similar. All in all it totals about 2km.

Krani was an ancient city state that existed on Kefalonia around 700 BC and what remains today are the fortified walls that once protected it. In most places it was now nothing more than a pile of rocks but in others it hinted at its former glory.

We could see huge blocks of stone cut with such precision and placed accurately in position without the aid of modern machinery. It was phenomenal to think how this was achieved. Barry had suggested aliens!

We were stood in the saddle between two hills called Casteli and Pezoules.

I went on ahead up the latter to find a section that jutted outwards and was not simply a continuation of the linear path cutting its way over the hill. It looked like it may have been the base for a tower and was the best preserved section of the wall.

Climbing carefully onto the wall I could sense a great energy from the rocks. To think they were almost three thousand years old did make them quite inspiring.

Having soaked up the atmosphere I re-joined Julie who was still only halfway up the hill. We sat down briefly on some debris rocks that scattered the floor. If we had a more comfortable seat we would have stayed longer.

It was so peaceful up here. Once again we were alone and had the place to ourselves. Up we got and walked back down the hill, the sight of the interlocking rocks continuing to amaze us.

At the bottom next to a small building there was an information board explaining in much detail about the walls. It mentioned the two different styles of masonry, from the polygonal straight lines by the tower to the trapezoidal diagonal cut further down the hill. However it failed to explain why there was a change in style.

 As it wasn't something that was going to keep us awake at night we let it drop.

Once we finished reading the information board we decided it was enough adventure for one day and we slowly made our way back to the car. The short drive to the main road was no less treacherous going back as we anxiously rolled over each and every stone and pot hole.

Returning to Faraklata we went for a short walk around the village. We parked opposite the Church of Saint Kyriaki behind a vintage mint condition Mini Cooper. It was certainly someone's pride and joy.

"I bet that's Barry and Katerina's!" suggested Julie.

She was right. We later learnt that Katerina had even driven the car in Kefalonia's first Vintage Car Rally earlier this year. In contrast our little car looked so dirty parked next to it with a thick layer of dust and dried up mud splashed along the sides.

We didn't venture very far on our walking tour of Faraklata with only the shortest of strolls down the hill to a small taverna which was literally just around the corner. The main attraction was undoubtedly the picturesque bell tower of the Church of Saint Dimitrios-Evaggelistria.  Its ornate structure was ever present during our brief walk. It towered over all around it.

Nearby there was a full sized all weather football pitch which seemed a luxurious facility for such a small village. It even had floodlights! Barry did explain how it came about (but I've forgotten) and added there was a thriving amateur football league on the island. He even knew of a 52 year old who continued to play in the league!

Even though we had only covered a very short distance we saw plenty of houses and ruined properties with bags of character along our route.

At the taverna we ordered a beer each and were pleasantly surprised when they came with a small plate of savoury nibbles.

There were a few green and black pitted olives and some small pieces of pastry speared with a cocktail stick. With no meat in sight I tucked right in and they were absolutely delicious.

We sat outside with the men drinking coffee whilst the women were sat inside having a really good natter. They all thought it was funny when I got my camera out to take a photo of the plate of nibbles. They must have wondered what the hell I was doing!

Back to Hotel Museum George Molfetas and we were welcomed home by Katerina and Barry. We were also introduced to Maria, Katerina's daughter. We talked for a while over pot of herbal tea that came dressed in brightly coloured tea cosy.

I mentioned to Barry that I had been a little disappointed not having experienced the earth move during our time on Kefalonia. He explained however that tremors were a daily occurrence and that there would have been plenty over the last week but all probably too gentle to register.

He suggested the seismology department page on the University of Athens website as a great resource.

We also touched on politics after I mentioned my disappointment to find no celebrations in Argostoli for the unification with Greece.

"There used to be marching bands and a big party with fireworks but now (because of the economy) nothing" said Katerina "Also the mayor is useless and probably couldn't be bothered!" she added sharply!

The local election results were announced today and she was a little upset that the mayor got re-elected. "Time for a revolution!" I suggested.

It was actually siesta time so we retired to our room where we fell suddenly and deeply asleep. It was a few hours later just before 8pm when we woke up or at least got up.

Furry mouthed, bleary eyed and strangely still tired we got dressed for supper and made our way up to the restaurant. The sun was just setting off to the West bathing the nearby church in a warmer colour.

It was a lovely evening so we chose to sit outside on the balcony. Dinner began with two dips served with Katerina's homemade bread.

The dips were sensational. An incredibly light and fresh tasting avocado and mint dip and then a mind-blowing skordalia, the lemony potato and garlic dip I had attempted earlier in the week. Now this was the real deal!

Between us Julie and I mopped the bowls clean using the entire bread basket. It was so good! Barry couldn't believe how well we had eaten. The bowls looked as clean as they did coming out the cupboard.

"Look at this!" he shouted over to Katerina "it's as if Maria's been here!"

For the next course we were given a choice of a Greek salad with a twist, the difference being the addition of capers or the classic Turkish stuffed aubergine dish of Imam Bayildi.

We went for the salad. Katerina offered more bread but we kindly declined. She paused for a while before advising us that eating salad without bread is not the done thing. Educated in salad etiquette we accepted more of her tasty homemade bread.

The twist for the salad worked really well as the feta cheese was creamier and less salty than normal so the capers complimented perfectly.

The bread wasn't wasted either as it mopped up the lovely juices in the bottom of the salad bowl.

The main courses arrived and Julie had a grilled chicken wonderfully cooked with plenty of oregano accompanied with a potato bake with a hint of lemon throughout.

Katerina proudly presented mine; a vegetable tart with an Imam Bayildi on the side! That made us all smile!

The tart was of course delicious with plenty of oozing cheese and a lovely warm spice which Katerina attributed to the copious amounts of ginger and peppercorns in the recipe.

Chocolate mousse was on offer for dessert but my boast last night that I could eat until they ran out food was exposed as the tall tale it was when I had to apologise and excuse myself for being too full.

"You have to try it" said Barry trying his best to persuade me "it's positively orgasmic!"

Laughing at his wholehearted endorsement I joked that I had enough culinary exhilaration for one evening and suggested perhaps I should save it for breakfast.

After dinner we chatted for quite some time. It didn't come as a surprise to find out that Katerina once ran a fully-fledged restaurant called Possada from here. It gathered a glowing reputation and became very popular especially with the Athens jet set. Then came the financial crash and they stopped coming. The Greek economy is still in a bad way. Katerina decided to scale it back to just cater for the hotel.

We talked some more about such diverse topics as the direct link between childhood behaviour and their diet and alien conspiracy theories! After a while we all showed signs of fatigue and when one huge Mexican wave of a yawn gripped us we all decided to bring the evening to a close.

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