913 Steps, Nafplio to Karathonas Beach (Καραθώνας)

Dave the motorhome’s in the mottled shadow of trees, stood a few meters back from the beach at Karathonas, near Nafplio in Greece (N37.54377 E22.82255). There are a few cars spread out across the expanse of land behind the broad sandy bay, and all of five people lying on the beach or swimming. One lass had me staring, as she was swimming in a brown knitted bobble hat, with a peak?

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Dave at Karathonas Beach
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Karathonas Beach on a Tuesday in May

Yesterday evening I got talking with Wim, a fellow Hymer owner from the Netherlands. He and his wife had just driven around Turkey. His tales of how welcome he was made made me wish we could get over there for a couple of months. He’d expected to have to stay on campsites, but had found he could stay in lots of free places, and once they’d settled in perfect strangers would bring him coffee and cakes. Later as we looked at his map of the Peloponnese and I waxed lyrical about the beauty of the area we’d just driven from (and where they were headed towards), he showed me the small wooden clogs and pieces of Delftware he gave away in return for other’s kindnesses.

In the ‘AB’ supermarket I’d manned up to get some lamb, managing to pronounce αρνί well enough for the assistant to understand me and walk over to pick up an entire lamb leg, which I’d completely failed to recognise as the meat I wanted. How much? I was prepared for this. ήμισυ. Half, as in half a kilo. Kilo in Greek is κιλό, and the upside down Y is lamda, pronounced ‘L’, so it’s the same word, but she knew what I meant without saying it. WHACK. I almost jumped from my patchword-tanned skin as she hacked it in two with a cleaver. The cost: €7.70 a kilo, in the UK it’s about €10 a kilo. We ate half of it with roast spuds and olive-oil roasted garlic veg and headed off around the town for a walk.

Whenever I read the Foreign Office website for advice on any potentially unsafe countries we’re travelling to, it always says something along the lines of ‘avoid all forms of demonstration’. What it doesn’t say is ‘as a human being, should you hear a demonstration taking place, you will be drawn to it like Rab C Nessbitt to a string vest promotion down the pub’. Nafplio’s broadly split into two areas: the beautiful area alongside the harbour and back from it (which has obviously been nobbed up recently with new stone cobbles, sky-filling splashes of red flowers, flashy shops and smooth creamy paints) and the rest of it. The rest is nice enough, but feels a little more real, any flat surface which doesn’t move fast enough gets graffiti’d, lazy rubbish dosses around the floor and everything looks tired, like it’s had enough. An abandoned hotel occupies pride of place looking south from near the Akronafplia castle. A swimming pool the other side of the castle has the look of an inverted Berlin wall, its blue backdrop hidden in graffiti, sections of its side torn away and reinforcement metal poking out like ribs.

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Nafplio
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Naflio’s famous for its worry beads, or ‘komboloi’.

 

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The less pretty side of Nafplio, unless you’re a graffiti artist?

Anyway, back to the point, a demonstration was shouting its way through the central, shiny part of town. To one side a police car sat quiet, blue lights flashing. We followed on behind, a couple of drooling Rab C’s, only able to make out a word which sounded like ‘capitalism’ from their chants. In the town’s small and neat little square they paused and we caught up. Maybe 50 people in total, split into two groups, each carrying different coloured banners. A few drops of rain came, almost fizzling the whole thing out it as protesters seemed about to turn into coffee drinkers. As they paused I tried to ask one of them what they were protesting about, but he spoke no English, giving me a look as if to say ‘hey, no talking, I’m making a serious political statement here’.

We left them to it, spotting a couple of uniformed police bikers (both on the same motorbike – an unusual sight) slowly riding up a side street to take a look at them, turning and parking out of sight. The chap on the pillion spoke English. ‘They are communists’. He seemed resigned, as if dealing with insolent children for the 100th time. ‘They want to take the money from the tree, where there is none’. ‘They want the money but not to have to work’. He was getting into the swing of it by now, in no way angry, just plain fed up. Stuck for something to say, I said something stupid: ‘So they are not happy?’. ‘No-one in Greece is happy right now’ he replied. I shook his hand, we thanked him and left.

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Checking our old Rough Guide, the huge area of parking we slept on last night wasn’t on the map; it’s been reclaimed from the sea at some point in the past 15 years. The Rough Guide’s map shows the train station alongside as the ‘new station’. It’s now derelict. A toy-sized train and coaches stand covered in spray paint, seemingly home to a Balkan family of basket weavers. It was noisy, as we’d been warned. Men fishing from the quayside shouted and laughed. Truckers ambled about outside. The bin men arrived (no uniforms here, they wear their own jeans) and crash-walloped the bins empty. A mosquito taunted us all night, high-pitched buzzing us before sneaking out of sight as we flicked the light on and grabbed the fly squat.

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Lucky for us we’d nothing to get up for and woke about 9:30 to the sound of rain. We checked the BBC weather: it’d be sunny in a couple of hours. Right on cue, as all the motorhomes around us drifted off one by one, the rain stopped and the grey ground started to fuse together into shadows. Time to head upwards. 999 steps to the Palamidhi, the Venetian fortress made up of three castles which greedily hogs the entire flat top of the rock above the town. It last saw action in the Greek War of Independence  being laid siege to for a year before failing. It’s named from the legendary Palamedes, a mythical son of Nafplio, credited with the invention of jokes (I kid you not), counting and dice, among other things. It’s not just him who’s a legend, the 999 steps are too, weakly there are only 913 of them, or at least that what the dog-loving guardian at the entrance told us when we finally rough-lunged our way to the top. A self-confessed animal lover, Spiros came out of the pay booth to chat with us about Charlie, stroking him endlessly and asking question after question. He apologised as Charlie wasn’t allowed in, but we already knew this from a sign at the bottom and preferred to keep the €4 apiece than wander yet another ruined killing ground (€4 = 8 cans of Lidl lager in my twisted mind).

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As we made our way back down as the chants of the communists drifted up, they were having another crack at getting support or some such. Walking around the headland behind the town, the graffitied rock and signs paint a picture of an active and broad ranging political spectrum. I’ve no idea what most of the graffiti meant, and found some of it pretty shocking. Our UK politics are so stable, so middle of the road, anything with a swastika or sickle has me alarmed.

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2pm is right in the middle of locked o’clock here. Unless they’re in tourist areas shops close for hours. We could hang about until 4:30pm and see if we could get a new mirror made up, but nah, we’ve headed to the beach instead. As we switched the engine off Dave’s grumble was replaced with goat bells. A herd of maybe 200 munched and sat its way through the hinterland, loosely watched by a shepherd. Finding myself in the middle of them, being eye-balled, I raised a hand to him to check the oddball with the camera wasn’t causing him a problem. A moment’s hesitation and he raised his back silently guiding the flock off towards Nafplio.

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Cheers, Jay

P.S. Spotted the couple below in Nafplio proving romance lives, fabulous.

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