Ten Days in May
the earth move for you?
At precisely 1.43am we were both woken up by a loud rumble that couldn't possibly have been just a routine bodily movement. Yes, the earth had finally moved for us in Kefalonia!
The first thing I did in the morning was I check the Seismology page at the University of Athens and they confirmed a magnitude 3.9 quake with its epicentre just offshore north of Fiskardo. A proper tremor, how exciting!
I can imagine however that living in an earthquake zone waiting for a major strike wouldn't be that thrilling. The 1953 earthquake that raised the island to the ground was a 7.2 and as recently as January this year the island was shook by a 6.5 quake.
From the moment we got up we were looking forward to our breakfast this morning. We rushed out as soon as we could. Barry and Katerina were up and ready for us. We had all the delights of yesterday's beautiful breakfast with the addition of some lovely barley flour pancakes.
Then as promised out came the chocolate mousse. It was perfection, light yet rich and topped with chopped nuts and caramel brittle. Barry was right. I had a little chocogasm and the earth moved again!
"We should have chocolate for breakfast more often."
After breakfast Katerina showed us photos of Maria's house on the island of Sikinos, part of the Cyclades group of islands. The images of white washed buildings against the arid landscape were so idyllic. Maria rented out the villa and Katerina was encouraging us to go. "It's so far off the tourist trail that it's the perfect place to unwind."
Overshadowed by its noisy neighbour of Santorini, the quiet charm of Sikinos would be the perfect retreat. The seed has been sown and I'm sure we'll find ourselves there one summer.
Before we left Katerina wanted to show us the other guest rooms as we hadn't had the full guided tour yet.
The one that I remember the most was called Helena, a room dedicated to female vanity.
It had so many fascinating pieces that once belonged to an aunt. The multitude of hats that hung everywhere were from her collection.
The room was full of remarkable items, copies of old National Geographic magazines, old family photograph albums of trips all over the world, such as Paris in 1947!
There was also an old suitcase that still had the Cunard sticker from a voyage on the Queen Mary.
I found all of these things incredibly interesting and I could have easily spent all day browsing through them all. But it was sadly time to leave.
I wrote in their visitor's book "We arrived as strangers and left as friends" and that was the truth.
Barry and Katerina were exceptional hosts who not only made us feel ever so welcomed as you would expect but also made us feel that they cared about us.
They took the time to get to know us and allowed us to know them. It's what friendships are based upon and they did it so effortlessly and genuinely.
As good as the hotel facilities were it was their openness and warm heartedness that made it special.
It was hugs all round and even Emma the dog came to say goodbye. It was like leaving my mothers. It took almost five minutes from starting the process to actually get out the door!
We rolled our suitcases down the hill and stopped for one last wave before getting in the car for our last full day on Kefalonia.
Our plan today was to drive to Poros and then continue along the South coast until almost completing a circle where we would find our hotel for the evening at Svoronata, which is very near the airport.
We followed a route over Mount Ainos recommended by Barry as the more scenic way to Poros.
The views were stupendous as the road climbed high above the Omama valley and the Monastery of Agios Gerasimo.
It was much higher than I had anticipated. At 1628 metres above sea level it was taller than any mountain in the UK!
Julie and I live in the shadow of the tallest mountain in Wales but Snowdon only comes in at 1085m.
We came to a junction, not too far from the summit.
We could have taken a tarmac road all the way to the top but we decided to stop and instead take a closer look at the tiny church of Ag. Eleftherios.
It was nothing special, looking more like a whitewashed storeroom rather than a church. A simple cross on the door was the only sign that it was actually a religious building. It was all locked up so we couldn't go inside either.
The view back down to Argostoli and Luxouri however was worth getting out of the car for. I'm sure from the top of Mount Ainos you would see the entire island.
We returned to the car and drove down the other side through beautiful scenery towards the village of Agios Nikolaos. We saw a few brown touist information signs for places to visit such as Lake Avithos and Atros monastery but we had driven past them before we had realised.
I was determined not to miss the next brown sign, no matter where it would send us. As we came to the village of Tzanata we saw a sign and promptly drove straight past it! I wasn't going to let that be the end of it and at the first opportunity I stopped the car and turned around.
The brown sign was for the Mycenaean Tholos Tomb of Poros. I was really pleased that we had turned around. It was the sort of place I would normally seek out.
We drove down a dirt track, not as rough as the one to the Cyclopean walls yesterday, and parked up. There was no one else about.
The site was set on a small hillock or mound of earth on top of which was a large wooden roof structure covering the 3500 year old stone tomb. We headed towards the gate only to find it padlocked!
The entire area was protected by a fence as tall as I was. The gate was equally as high. We looked around and there was definitely no one else here. There was a small ticket booth but that was boarded up. With it being low season I guess it wasn't worth paying someone to sit there all day for handful of tourists that visit. I wasn't about to give up. "Keep a lookout" I asked Julie.
"For what?" she replied a little confused.
I paced like a tiger up and down the fence looking for the best place to break in!
The top edge was quite rough and would easily have torn my clothes or worse my skin. I was getting increasingly frustrated when Julie noticed the gate had a much smoother rounded finish at the top.
In a flash I had put one foot onto the heavy chain that locked the gate and with the agility of a much younger man I vaulted over and into the compound.
Now that I had probably broken a law I bounded up the hill as quick as I could to take a closer look at the tomb. I reached the entrance way and walked down the passage towards the wooden door, and found it was also locked! It was so frustrating!
I peered through the small gap between the door and the lintel and could see the circular structure inside. Unfortunately the gap was too narrow for me to post myself through!
I could see a deep hole dug in its centre. Several pieces of value were recovered from this site and are now displayed at the museum in Argostoli. This included the skeletal remains of a King and a gold broche that some say links this tholos tomb back to the legend of Odysseus!
It reminded me so much of our own Arthurian legend and how almost every town in the UK has a tenuous link to King Arthur.
Anyway, the name tholos refers to the beehive type domed construction but I couldn't really appreciate this shape from where I was standing. So after a minute or two it was time to go. I know it wasn't quite the Parthenon but even so it was still incredible to think it dated back to 1350BC.
I made it back to the car relieved not to have been caught trespassing an ancient monument and we quickly returned to the road down to Poros. From Tzanata we descended through the pretty Arakli Gap, a short but dramatic gorge.
As we drove through the 80 metre deep ravine we could see the red roof tiles of Poros in the near distance.
Within minutes of emerging from the gorge we were skirting around the fringes of Poros.
It was a sizeable port town, from where ferries sail to mainland Greece and Zakinthos the other Ionian island to the South.
We decided it was probably a good place to stop for some lunch and ended up, more by chance than judgement, at the palm fringed paved promenade.
There was a small car park at one end which once again didn't have anyone collecting any money for us to pay for the parking.
The first thing we had to do was to find an ATM. We paid our bill at the Hotel Musuem George Molfetas this morning in cash which left us penniless. It didn't take us long to find a bank. The centre of town wasn't a big place.
We took €80 out which we later found out was at a much better rate than what we got exchanging our money back home.
With a fistful of Euros we walked down the front browsing menus outside a choice of tavernas and cafes but none were different enough to catch our eye.
At the end of the promenade, tucked away in the corner in a great spot overlooking the bay we saw Foti's Family Grillhouse. It looked incredibly quaint that we didn't even bother checking out their menu before deciding to sit outside on its veranda.
The menu turned out to be as uninspiring as all the others but it was all about the location location location!
Despite this the food was actually quite tasty. Julie ordered a pork chop which was almost the size of the plate and the fries were clearly homemade and delicious.
I took a chance and went for the "special" Foti family salad. There was no indication of the ingredients. I checked it had no meat or fish so I was good to eat whatever it turned out to be.
It had the basis of a fine Greek salad, tomatoes, cucumber, green/red bell pepper, black olives, red onion then instead of feta it was topped with warm boiled potatoes and hardboiled egg.
It may sound a little unappetising to some but to be fair it looked nice on the plate and tasted just as good.
Fortunately we weren't after a romantic lunch for two overlooking the bay because the lovely view was spoilt slightly not just by the ugly ferry boats cutting across but by someone's bizarre sunbathing technique.
She must have read in a magazine that whilst sunbathing the best way to avoid white stripes down your side was to stand up. Why else would she stand facing us with her hands on her hips for about 10 minutes before turning her back on us and facing the other way for another 10 minutes, and then back to front again? Most ruddy peculiar. We couldn't gaze out across the pretty shingle beach because it felt like she was staring us out.
The moment would also have been spoilt by the raucous group with whom we shared the veranda. Of course they were British, the rowdy ones usually are.
Once we had eaten we left Poros and drove south hugging the coastline. We drove past some lovely scenery with several little deserted coves along the way.
If we had a little more time on our hands we would have spent the afternoon on one of the beaches but onwards we drove.
We reached the resort of Skala where the beaches were packed with loungers and parasols but equally as deserted. Holidaying out of season really isn't popular!
Seeing this battery coup style of a resort made us glad we chose Assos. Well, actually I'm being a little unfair to Skala, it was far from being the scourge of mass tourism like Benidorm.
There were some stylish 5 star resorts along the beachfront and it did have a proper sandy beach but at the end of the day it was simply devoid of any charm or drama for us.
As we left Skala town we headed west along the coast road. On our journey today we had seen countless signs for monasteries so we decided to stop at the next one. This we did at Sisi Mary Monastery but quickly changed our minds when we noticed the all the signs were exclusively in Greek. We took that as a divine sign that they didn't encourage tourists.
We stopped for a few minutes to stretch our legs and admire the striking backdrop of Mount Ainos behind us. It wasn't long, near Lourdata, we began to deviate from the coast and headed inland.
After about ten minutes we reached a staggered crossroads at Peratata. We ignored our turn down to Svoronata choosing instead to turn up this really narrow road up a very steep hill to Kastro in search of St. George's castle.
I doubted that two cars could pass each other on this road and as we reached the top we were relieved that we didn't have to put that theory to the test.
We parked up on the side of the road outside someone's house and walked down a pedestrianised street towards the battlements of the 16th century Venetian fort. Most of the properties were small tavernas, shops or rented villas, none of which appeared open, most were still being painted ready for the tourist season.
When we reached the entrance we could do nothing but sigh out loud and bitterly when we discovered not for the first time today our adventures obstructed by a padlocked gate!
I had a closer look in an attempt to break in again but as you would expect for a castle these gates were impregnable. I had to admit defeat. It was so frustrating!
I peered through the bars of the gate and saw a cobbled path winding its way through an arch and inside the castle walls.
The original castle dated back to the 11th century and was effectively the capital of Kefalonia until 1757. I had been excited to feel all that history so it was terribly disappointing not to have walked amongst Kefalonia's best historical attraction.
Although there was some consolation for all the effort of coming up here. The views were spectacular! We looked out across the whole South coast and out over to the island of Zakinthos.
"Somewhere down there is our room for the night" I said. The truth was we didn't actually know where. I had no map no directions just a name Pythos Studios and that it was in the vicinity of Svoronata.
"If we're going to find it before dark we best get a move on!" suggested Julie.
We got back to the car and rolled as quickly as possible back down the hill avoiding any head-on collisions.
After the village of Metaxata we came to a junction with a mass of resort signs. It took us a few minutes to check each one and Pythos was not one of them.
We continued through to the village of Svoronata, eyes peeled for a sign. We drove out the other side having not seen one. We turned around and still no sign. In desperation we stopped at the side of the road and asked a family who were walking past.
"Do you know where Pythos Paradise Studios could be?" I asked pronouncing it "pithos" thinking they could be locals. They looked at me blankly. I showed them our booking confirmation and with great relief they recognised it. "Aha, pythos" they said pronouncing it "pie-thos". They were English and they knew where we would find our Pythos studios.
The only problem was they couldn't explain very well how we would get there!
In stepped the young son with his iPad connected to Google maps and he showed me roughly where to go, back to the junction with the mass of resort signs, go down to the coast, drive as far as the boundary of the airport then turn inland. Somewhere on that road on the right near some gates with dolphins.
We couldn't thank them enough. We could have ended up sleeping in the car if it wasn't for them!
It wasn't long and we were on the road looking for dolphins on gate posts. After passing a large resort called Astra Hotel Suites and Spa we saw a sign for Paradise Studios and turned right despite not seeing any big concrete fish. We came to a small but attractive resort with a handful of apartments surrounding a pool. The place was empty though, with the exception of one guy sporting a big thick moustache and dressed in overalls busy painting a door.
"Here we go again" I thought "they're not open for tourists yet!"
"Pithos?" I asked hopefully. He shook his head but called his similarly moustachioed mate over. They both scratched their heads before pointing vaguely north and continue for three somethings, minutes, junctions, kilometres? I couldn't make it out but I thanked them anyway.
It was a shame we weren't staying here, not just because we at least had found here but it was actually rather nice.
Back in the car we returned to the road and drove vaguely north. After several twists and turns, much more three, we saw the most ridiculous dolphins atop gate posts. Hooray! We were close.
Around the next corner and there was the sign for Pythos. We had almost come full circle back into Svoronata. We could see the bell tower of the village church a short distance away.
We were so glad to finally reach our home for the night. Our first impressions were quite good. It only cost us €28 so we weren't expecting luxury but it had a really pleasant pool area.
There wasn't a reception so we went up to the poolside bar. It turned out to be the right place to check-in. At first they couldn't find us on their roster probably due to the failing eyesight of the elderly couple who were holding the fort. Whilst Grandma and Grandpa were very welcoming and friendly they spoke no English which added to the confusion.
Once they found our booking the old lady took us to our room.
Our positive opinion of the resort rapidly plummeted when we were shown to our barracks, sorry I mean our apartment.
This was more like the no frills extreme basic facilities we expected. Calling it a white-washed prison cell wouldn't be too harsh. I tried paying the old woman what we owed but she refused to take it. She tried to explain why but we couldn't understand her.
In the end she said "Maria. Un heur" and motioned with her hands to suggest that Maria will come and see us in an hour.
We sat outside our room waiting for Maria. Our fellow inmates were also sat outside. We chatted for a while. They seemed a little put out that we had paid only €28 to stay here tonight. We didn't ask how much they paid but judging by their faces it was a lot more!
Maria still hadn't arrived so we had to carry on making small talk. We enthused about Assos but they rolled their eyes at us.
They had no intention of leaving this resort all week. I could sense they weren't too pleased with us and thought we were judging them as dirty fly 'n flops. Which of course we were!
Eventually Maria turned up. Her English wasn't as good as we had hoped and we struggled to communicate. She wasn't going to take the money off us either and I think she said we needed to pay the head office in Argostoli, so we just left it. They had our card details to secure the booking so it was fine.
Not having to wait outside our room any longer we made our excuses and said goodbye to our neighbours.
Sat by the pool sipping a cold Mythos beer we made our plans for the evening. After seeing the chicken nugget bar menu we decided to walk the mile and a half down to the tavernas on the seafront for our supper.
We set off with our extra €28 burning a hole in our pocket. We must have been hungry as we marched at some pace down to the coast.
The little bay we first came to looked idyllic. Ammes beach was the perfect place from where to watch the sun set. It was deserted but for a giggly young couple taking selfies of themselves.
From there the road was paved so we walked past the couple of tavernas attracted by the dramatic craggy cliffs. The evening light brought out such a beautiful golden colour in the rocks.
We were mesmerised.
It was a lovely evening as we walked hand in hand stopping ever so often to admire the scenery.
We wondered how far it was to Avithos Beach because Trip Advisor had a well rated taverna listed but we decided it was a stroll too far.
At the end of the road we overlooked a small harbour. It didn't hold our interest as it was more of an empty marina than a quaint fishing port so we decided to turn around.
On the way back we ignored the first taverna despite looking quite interesting with a windmill/dovecote thing in its yard. Instead we continued to Koutoupas Paradise next door.
We sat outside on its veranda and ordered a cold beer to watch the sun slowly set. We ordered food as well but that didn't really add anything to the moment.
My gigantes tasted like very large Heinz Baked Beans and the Kolokokeftedes courgette fritters were rubbery after being reheated in the microwave for too long. Even the tzaziki was an insipid runny version that I hardly ate half.
I guess at Platanos and Hotel George Molfetas we'd been spoilt with good food so in comparison this meal was plain terrible.
It had a 3 out of 5 on TripAdvisor and I struggled to score it that high.
However, despite the food the beer was good, we had a friendly welcome and the service was excellent, so we also gave it a 3 out of 5.
It was nice and peaceful and a great setting to watch the last moments of the sun set.
It was a lovely way to spend our last evening of our vacation.
Once nature's little light show was over we started our walk back. The big light didn't immediately go out but we were surprised how suddenly it got dark.
I had a small pocket torch with me but I may as well been wee willie winky carrying a candle for the amount of light I got from it.
There were no street lamps so it was literally became jet black within a few minutes. Every now and again we had some light to show us the way. We reached the Astral Village resort and the well-lit shop opposite.
After what looked like an illuminated church to our left the road became a little treacherous. It was pitch black, as dark as the ace of spades and the road twisted and turned. If a car came around one of those bind corners we would have been goners!
We were mightily relieved when we turned and walked towards the light of Pythos.
It actually didn't look that bad in the dark. The pool was still lit up and the bar looked inviting. Although the truth was that the covered area was more of a smokery.
We didn't fancy being kippers so we decided to end our amazing and beautiful holiday in our own company, sat outside our room, on our plastic garden furniture, sipping our shockingly cheap white wine straight from the two litre plastic bottle.
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