Around Greece on a Vespa

Hopping over to Corfu

June 1, 2011 by B Ruml

Monday, May 30; Paleokastritsa. [written Wed] Bright and early at 5:30a, we disembarked the ferry at Igoumenitsa:

and headed for the nearest bakery (which was open!) 300 meters away. Our first tiropita (cheese in filo) and a nice pain au chocolate. Plus my first sour cherry juice on Greek soil (a favorite from Sophia’s Pantry in Belmont). We then headed to the ferry for Corfu, another 300 meters, which left at 7:30a. Arriving in Corfu town, we wanted to get our SIMs as promptly as possible and circled the town twice looking in vain for a phone store. We then headed west for the small and quiet village of Paleokastritsa.

As we pulled into town, a man on a scooter pulled alongside of us and complemented us on our scooter (in Italian). We told him we were Americans and he asked whether we were looking for a place to stay. We said we were and we followed him down the road a bit and pulled into a group of small cottages. He showed us a middling cottage with a shower which had no hook to hang up the hand-held showerhead. Well, no problem, he said, he had another even nicer place he would show us next. And indeed it was very nice but again the hook to hang up the showerhead was broken. He promised to fix it within the hour and we settled on a price of 70€ for two nights. Pix to follow! We had a long conversation with Spiro about his rent-a-car business, where to eat and so on.

As it was not yet lunchtime, we walked 100m to the Acapulco Bar, a guesthouse with swimming pool and lovely view out over a bay. We had some drinks and got to know the very friendly proprietor.

At lunchtime, we went a bit farther down the road to the main beach in a lovely cove and had lunch at Alipa, the rather fancy restaurant on the beach.

We tried the local specialty of pastitsada, braised beef with spaghetti in what was supposed to be a spicy sauce (no spice to speak of; perhaps catering to the tourist trade). The portion was huge and, although we were very hungry from our overnight on the ferry, we could barely finish it.

Accompanied by a mediocre Greek salad (which looks fine in the photo):

During the afternoon we unpacked, returned to Alpia to use their WiFi for our placeholder post, and inquired about renting a boat for a day to visit the local beaches, to which there are no roads.

Finally, for dinner we took Spiro’s advice to have dinner at the next-door Oasis taverna which turned out to be run by the fellow we’d met at the Acapulco. We had Deb’s favorite paidakia (baby lamb chops):

Then to bed for our first night in Greece. [655km; 35; 28; 33]

Into Corfu Town

June 1, 2011 by B Ruml

Tuesday, May 31; Paleokastritsa. Woke up at the just-right hour of 9:30am. Got some sour cherry juice and then wondered where we could get some good cappuccino. The answer was not likely to be in Paleokastritsa so we headed off to Corfu Town (20km) where we needed to find the phone store for our SIMs. Happily, halfway there we came across a most unlikely but excellent bakery/cafe:

where we had a fine tiropita:

and pain au chocolat with excellent cappuccino. As we sat eating, the sky opened up and we had what I suppose is a typical tropical shower. Those spots are actual rain drops on the way down!

We let the rain stop and dry up a bit before moving on to Corfu Town. Happily, on the road just outside of town we found the WIND store where we stocked up on SIMs, one for the phone, one for the iPad, and one for the 3G key for the MacBook Pro.

Then into town, to walk around, visit the Archeological Museum (not much; the major item was a pediment from the early 6th century BC with a very oriental looking Medusa and lions), visit the formal royal summer residence (Mon Repos) in a nice wooded area just south of town (not as large or grand as one would expect).

On the way home, we stopped at a real supermarket and bought some local cheese, feta, olives, and strawberries (along with the staples). We have an extremely well-stocked “supermarket” next to us on the road where we got cold beer and the local wine in a plastic bottle (self-service). We got the “dry white” which is very acceptable (at 3.50€ for 1.5 liters). Did I mention that “the cask” is a 15 litter bag-in-box which is run through the refrigerating unit:

Spiro had recommended that we dine at Spiro’s Taverna (no relation, I think) which has a BBQ on Tuesdays. The appetizer was a fine tiropita with honey:

We made the mistake of ordering two portions of the lamb BBQ which was under-marinated and cooked to well-done in the normal Greek style. It was huge and we now know that one entree is plenty for both of us!

The dessert (on the prix fixe menu) could not have been more Greek: a crepe filled with Nutella and bathed in exceedingly sweet strawberry syrup (fruit syrups are big here; I was offered some on my ice cream earlier in the day). The saving grace was the whipped cream and strawberries on the side.

[SIMs: 72; 35; 30; 69]

Lazy day

June 2, 2011 by B Ruml

Wednesday, June 1; Paleokastritsa. Well, at some point one has to just relax and let the world go by. That’s pretty much what we did all day — getting up to date on our posts excepted.

We’d saved the strawberries we bought at the supermarket for breakfast:

We’d had such a pleasurable time at the wonderful high-end bakery (Emeral) a little more than halfway back to Corfu town (12km), that we decided to make the trip. It was great to have their wonderful tiropita (sold out of the pain au chocolate!) and more-than-respectable cappuccino.

We came back home, relaxed, finished the ham and cheese pie with our supermarket olives:

When it came time to put our posts online, we repaired to Alipa, the high-end restaurant in the bay with its wide-open (and high-speed) WiFi. While there, we took the opportunity to download several issues of WIRED magazine in their new iPad format. Each was about 400MB so it was a long process. We passed the time by trying Alipa’s baked feta and dolmades.

When we returned home, we met our host Spiro again; he was so delighted to hear that we were staying through Saturday (“I love you!”) that he recommended two very local restaurants in small hilltop villages (“Don’t tell anybody else!”). We went up the very steep hill behind us (4km) to Boulis Taverna. It’s hard to tell that it hangs over a steep cliff into which the narrow road has been cut.

We asked the proprietress “What’s cooking?” (in Greek; thanks Niki!) and she went through the specials with us. We opted for the Tirocafteri (baked feta in a spicy tomato sauce), Moussaka and a Horiatiki (Greek salad).

When we’d finished, she brought us two glasses of after-dinner liqueur, the local kumquat item and a grappa “of the village.” The bill, needless to say, was very reasonable.

Here’s Deb to describe the trip home: We had no wine nor beer with dinner because we would be riding the scooter down the hill in the dark, around hairpin turns. When our hostess brought the grappa, I was a bit concerned, but we made a point of sharing the small quantity of grappa and taking the turns on the mountain road slowly. Fortunately, they actually had installed street lamps along the mountain road. So, Wheeler, what could have been “hairy” turned out to be extremely manageable; your Pop is an over-the-top excellent driver of Vespas.

[xxxkm; 35; 25; 33]

Our home on Corfu

June 3, 2011 by Debra Dawson

Thursday, June 2; Paleokastritsa. It’s long overdue to give you a sense of why we’re staying longer than expected on Corfu. Here are photos of our studio apartment in Paleokastritsa which is 35 euros per night and offers us access to a pool/bar area which overlooks the turquoise bay:

Here’s the view from the driveway with a certain red Vespa parked to the right:

Here’s the kitchen (opposite the bathroom) by the front door:

And here’s the room in the opposite direction toward the terrace with table and chairs:

After four days on Kerkyra/Corfu, we have found the countryside lovely with green olive and cypress trees growing in the same forests covering the hills. The olive trees here are very tall (35′), compared with the pruned trees in Tuscany (that’s B standing next to the olive tree in front of our studio):

We’ve noticed that wearing a helmet seems to be an option and that toddlers can be seen standing/kneeling in the front passenger seats with their parents driving which seems startling after decades of mandatory requirements for safety at home. The road signs are in both Greek and Roman characters so that one can rely on phonetics if unsure of the Greek spelling of towns and villages. I have, however, been able to have mini dialogues in Greek. On Thursday morning we drove to a hilltop to visit a pastry shop/cafe with a view. An elderly man and woman greeted us (the woman in classic black dress and a head scarf). I relied entirely on my Greek lessons to say “Good morning; please I would like a tiropita and two cappuccini.” She replied, “malista” meaning “certainly.” When she brought the order she said “here you are”: “oriste”; last night during dinner at a family-run taverna not far from our bungalow, we used “nostimo” or “delicious” a couple of times. We also learned how the Greeks make their signature “paidakia” or baby lamb chops: rub the chops with olive oil, lots of oregano, salt, pepper, and grill over a wood fire. We’d eaten paidakia a few years ago on Crete and they’re every bit as delicious as I remember; they are typically ordered by the weight (1/2 or 1 kilo). An analogy might be racks of BBQ ribs (or a bucket of fried chicken) in the US. A meal of paidakia and horiatiki (Greek salad) every night would satisfy me indefinitely.

Later in the afternoon, we decided to take a ride to Glifada beach, recommended by Niki’s friend, and enjoyed about an hour of sun and sea on a lovely unspoiled beach.

The aloe plants on the path to the beach were quite large:

Last day in Paleokastritsa

June 4, 2011 by Debra Dawson

Friday, June 3: Paleokastritsa. Today we stopped again at our favorite bakery/coffee bar, Emeral, on the way to visit Achillion, the palace built by Queen Elizabeth of Austria in the late 19th century and, after she was assassinated by a demented Italian, occupied by Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany.

The palace is located in a lovely spot overlooking the Ionian Sea with a wonderful ballroom on the top floor and an expansive marble terrace adjacent to the ballroom. The garden surrounding the terrace included a small waterlily pond, many palm trees, two wisteria-covered walkways leading to the sea and more than one statue of Achilles overlooking the sea.

This was our last evening on Corfu, so we decided to to to the “pserotaverna,” or “fish tavern,” where the family had made available WiFi at no charge, for our last meal. We chose a red snapper from the day’s catch, which was grilled:

We’re taking the 1:30pm ferry from Corfu to Patras on Saturday, June 4th, and heading directly to Delphi.

We’re not in Kansas anymore

June 5, 2011 by Debra Dawson

Saturday, June 4: Nafpaktos. As we were packed and ready to ride to Corfu Town to take the ferry to Patras, Spiro returned to say good bye and posed for a photo with B.

We took the new faster Minoan Line ferry named “Europa Palace,” which was practically empty, since we’re still in low season in June. All of these international ferries feature posh salons and cabins, bars, and swimming pool; this one even had a gym and sauna.

We arrived in Patras at 8pm, drove off the ferry and headed directly for the bridge which connects the Peloponnese with the mainland. Riding over the bridge was very much like riding over the Golden Gate Bridge with a toll structure based on type of vehicle — we paid 1.90euros for our scooter. We drove along the coastal road and arrived in a quaint port town, Nafpaktos, where we inquired about rates at one hotel where the woman at the desk only spoke Greek (80 euros and a little more than we wanted to pay), and found a nicer hotel about a block away for only 65 euros including breakfast, so we checked in, unpacked our bag and went into the harbor area, had two gyros, then sat at a bar alongside the harbor with a couple of draughts. Enjoyed the scene of (I think) only Greeks enjoying a Saturday night out along the waterfront. Here is a view from our table at the bar.

[970km; 65(bk); 10; 28]

On to Delphi

June 7, 2011 by Debra Dawson

Sunday, June 5: Arachova. After breakfast at the affordable “Plaza Hotel” in Nafpaktos (here is the entrance to the hotel that faces the beach),

we drove to Arachova, ten minutes beyond Delphi, and stayed in a very alpine-like town (there is a ski area nearby and all of the hotels have fireplaces in the lobbies catering to winter crowds). Here is the facade of our hotel where we’re parked out front.

When we drove into town we were mesmerized by the fragrance of grilled meat as we drove by a taverna on the outskirts of town. After checking in to our hotel, we drove back to the taverna for the Sunday meal. Here is a view of the specially-built “grill station” outside the restaurant.

And here is the scene of families dining on Sunday.

Delphi and an oil change

June 7, 2011 by Debra Dawson

Sunday, June 6: Diakopto. We got up at 7am in Arachova so that we could have breakfast and ride 10 minutes to Delphi. We arrived before 9am with only 35 people including 20 US college students in a circle listening to a lecture. We had a nice climb to see the remains. Here is B at the Temple of Apollo.

We left at around 11:30 to make our way to a ferry crossing to take us from the small town of St. Nicholas to the other side and the Peloponnese. We arrived at the dock area about two hours later and learned from one of the fish tavernas (“psarotaverna”) that the ferry was no longer running, so we drove back toward the bridge connecting the mainland to Patras, crossed to the Peloponnese side and decided to locate the Vespa/Piaggio dealer because our new Vespa was now due for its 1,000 km oil and filter change. We inquired at a local BMW dealer after exiting the bridge and were told that the Vespa dealer was literally around the corner after the next stop light! We drove up to the front door of the dealer and were greeted by one of the nicest guys on the planet. I explained that we were due for our recommended maintenance and learned that the service shop had closed for the day. After some conversation between us and then between the dealer employees, they happily agreed to take our Vespa into the shop to provide the maintenance necessary. Here’s the Vespa in for service.

They couldn’t have been nicer and were amused to see us touring Greece with a Vespa from Italy. They checked out all the systems and topped off the coolant at no extra cost. The nicest folks you’d ever hope to meet! We were on our way in less than an hour, and drove east to Diakopto, where we are going to spend the next two nights.

Cog railway through the gorge

June 9, 2011 by Debra Dawson

Tuesday, June 7: Diakopto. We had an early breakfast and caught the cog railway train through the gorge to the town of Kalavryta. The railway was built in 1894 to carry minerals down the mountain, and actually has modern rail/subway like cars instead of the old railway in New Hampshire which takes tourists to the top of Mt. Washington. Here is a photo from inside the car.

We wandered about Kalavryta and caught the next train down the gorge to Diakopto. Most of the restaurants in town were closed at lunchtime this early in the season, even the gyros place. B suggested that we take a scooter ride over to another small town on the shore, which we did, and found a fish taverna on the water with a few old men conversing over wine after lunch.

We slowed down when one man called out “hello” and eventually ordered a salad for two.

Best day yet!

June 9, 2011 by B Ruml

Wednesday, June 8; Olympia. It would surprise me greatly (and please me no end) if we were to have another day which delivered the pleasures we had today. We arose late, dawdled over breakfast for a long time, packed slowly:

and set off at 11:10am to go over the mountains towards Olympia. We thought we’d get about two-thirds of the way and stay in some charming mountain village along the road. We really didn’t know what to expect in terms of the difficulty of the drive. As it turned out, it was spectacular with a good road (most of the time), very little traffic, and mind-bending views of both peaks and valleys. (I wanted very much to take some pictures of the views but have learned from experience that they don’t turn out well and it’s a greater disappointment to have your memories misrepresented than to have only the memory.) We did stop after 45 minutes for some cappuccino at a substantial inn (this is ski country) where I took this picture.

Our goal for lunch was the town at the end of the cog railway line, Kalavryta, where we had seen an impressive grilled meat restaurant but were unable to stay until lunchtime because our return train left at 12:25p. So were were excited and salivating as we rode into town. We parked across from the restaurant and had our first paidakia splurge. These small lamb ribs are the Greek equivalent of porterhouse steak and are typically ordered by the kilo. So, we ordered a kilo along with horiatiki and tzatziki.

We waited while the ribs were prepared and grilled. The size of the charcoal pit suggests the enormous size of this restaurant which had a lunch crowd today of three tables. (It’s main season is winter and the ski crowd must make it a very lively place.)

Finally, they were ready.

We dug in wondering whether we had appetites suitable to the task. The answer was yes:

All in all, a most memorable meal — now if I could only duplicate that in Harvard Square!

We slowly got on the Vespa and moved slowly out of town. (I forgot to mention that yesterday we’d discovered a grocery with Greek pistachios. We took the opportunity to lay in a very large supply.) The towns we went through as we traversed the mountains were tiny and had no places to stay. So, in the end we found ourselves in Olympia at about 6pm, checked out four hotels and selected the one Deb liked best (we have different criteria for this choice!). After showering, we were ready to visit the Archeological Museum where we saw the one really indispensable sight: the Hermes of Praxeletes.

Neither of us felt the need to eat any dinner!