Assos

Ithaca and kefalonia road trip

I have had 2 weeks off, having cooked for 21 days in a row (I can’t remember the last time I grafted so hard). It has been fabulous as I have had 2 of my dear friends visiting; Cecilia and Kate. Cecilia and I hired a car (I wasn’t driving) and travelled round Kefalonia and Ithaca. I love the freedom of just driving (or at least being driven) until coming across somewhere we liked the look without having to plan . We went to a beautiful tiny village called ‘Assos’ that we had planned to spend just an hour at, but falling in love with it’s charm we decided to spend the night there.

Assos

Assos

 

The following day we went to Fiskardo which is also a very picturesque, but more upmarket village, one of the only ones not affected by the 1953 earthquake.

Fiskardo

Talking of which, whilst here we felt some tremors, when our whole room shook for a few seconds- Gioula later informed me that they also felt the tremors in Ithaca.

It has not always been easy trying to access places off the beaten track due to the lack of signs and not being able to drive along the coastal road and see what’s what. After collecting Kate from the airport, we wanted to find somewhere relatively close by as Cecilia was flying back a couple of days later. We stopped off for an aperitif in the capital, Argostoli, where we had these delicious fat vine leaves with lemon sauce.

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We had no plan, but decided to head to Trapezeki, a small coastal village set in the mountains. Whilst searching for somewhere to stay we came across a handsome silver haired man (called ‘Stefano’) selling honey, jam and grappa on the roadside of ‘Trapezeki’. We spent sometime sampling the various wares and knocking back the Greek grappa with Stefano.

Jam and wine tasting at the roadside in trapezeki

Jam and wine tasting at the roadside in trapezeki

Fortunately he had heard of the apartments we had found on the internet, and rang a guy, who rang another guy, who rang the owner who came and collected us. After being told it would be 45 euros for the room for 3 of us (very cheap for Kefalonia), we were amazed to be presented with a spotless, large apartment with a lovely balcony overlooking the mountains and sea (what more did we need?) Here we saw the sunset as the moon quickly began to rise. The place was run by a lovely Greek family who greeted us with a bag of their own grown fruit and vegetables and left a bottle of olive oil outside our car in the morning.

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From here we went on a wine tasting tour run by a local farmer, who collected us and took us to her own vinyard and explained the painstaking processes involved in making organic Robola wine. For 21 days in August she, alongside her parents and just 2 helpers have to pick each grape individually by hand and carry the heavy barrells up the hill in the heat (about 40 degrees) for 12 hours a day. We were then taken to her house where we commenced the wine tasting – or ‘wine drinking’ – as we were given a generous glass of wine alongside fresh tomatoes, feta, bread and her own olive oil. This is the Greek ‘go to snack’.

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After Cecilia left, Kate and I without a car had to rely on public transport, of which there is little in Kefalonia and next to none in Ithaca. In Kefalonia, buses don’t really run at weekends and in the week they are infrequent and serve only a few places. In fact we felt rather proud of being able to blag a lift with one of the package holiday companies at the airport to Fiskardo, which I was more than happy to be visiting again.

I have been pleasantly surprised by how beautiful Kefalonia is…It is made up of forest-carpeted mountains, olive trees and vines, sandy beaches in the south and pebble beaches in the north. I had spoken to a lot of Ithaca lovers who put me off the Island, referring to themselves as ‘Kefalonia snobs’, avoiding Kefalonia out of fear that it is too touristy. For me, I don’t have a problem with things being ‘touristy’ per se, as they are generally that way for a reason. There are parts of both Ithaca and Kefalonia that are touristy, yet also unspoilt and retain their charm, such as Assos and Fiskardo (Kefalonia) and Kioni (Ithaca). There are also many parts of both these Islands off the beaten track, which are equally as charming and not overrun by tourists. In Ithaca the beaches seem to be a lot quieter, the beach closest to my house for example, for the most part I have to myself, with the exception of a couple of goats from time to time. After living in quite an isolated part of the island for 6 weeks where I have to drive at least 15 minutes if I want to buy a pint of milk, I have come to appreciate the ‘touristy’ side of Kefalonia and it has felt quite a treat to be able to go out for dinner in the evenings and not cook .

Coming back to Ithaca with Kate I had hoped we may be able to hitch hike around. However cars are so few and far between, we weren’t so keen on waiting in the heat for hours by the roadside. So we decided to overcome our fears and hired a moped to see the island. Mum, if you’re reading this, don’t worry, it’s very safe – the roads are empty and I don’t drive faster than 15 km an hour! Driving a moped is a new discovery for me, it’s incredibly liberating and you feel so much closer to the scenery (always seems you’re a bit more detached in a car). Each corner one is presented with a new breathtaking view.

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I have been encouraged to learn some more Greek by the enthusiasm that locals have shown me for speaking even a couple of words. It seems different to other European countries such as France where people will tend to respond to you in English even when you do attempt to speak their language. I guess the simple matter is Greek isn’t a widely spoken language, and as Gioula explained, when they go abroad people expect them to be able to speak in English and when people come to Greece they are also expected to speak in English. I have even impressed my friends by having a whole conversation in Greek:
‘Kalee-spera, tee kane?’ (Good afternoon, how are you?)
‘Kala, esis?’ (Good. And you?’)
‘Kala’ (Good)

Not bad for 6 weeks eh?! Still my basic Greek best serves me for conversing  with Olympia (the dog) who can only speak Greek, and am regularly heard telling her ‘mi’ (‘don’t ‘) or ‘exi’ (‘outside’).

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It has of course been a somewhat strange and interesting time to be visiting Greece, with the referendum taking place, and thanks to the internet and friendly locals we have been able to educate ourselves a little more on what is happening. Some people have been a little edgy about discussing things. Others less so. The day after the referendum the first cafe we went into, the owner asked if we had any drachma to pay for our drinks. Thinking we had somehow missed something, my heart sank for a few seconds, until I realised he was joking. Apparently in Kefalonia 80% of the population voted ‘no’ (in compajrison too 60% of the country). At the moment it is just a waiting game, and I don’t think we can ever truly understand the anxiety that people are going through. As a tourist/expat the media outside Greece appears to be portraying a gloomy and inaccurate picture yet again and I have been shocked by messages from friends asking if I have enough money, another wondering whether it is safe to visit due to fear about riots and running out of food and a friend of my mother’s stuffing money down her bra when she comes on holiday here. For tourists there is no problem taking money from the banks if you have a foreign bank account. Sadly it’s the Greeks who the restrictions are imposed upon-currently a max of 60 euros a day. It would be pretty sad if this put people off visiting at a time when our money is most needed. Ithaca has already been hit by tourism because it is a place that many Greeks come to on holiday, so shops, hotels and restaurants have been quieter due to Greek tourists not being able to afford to travel… So tourists needn’t be put off coming over, if anything I’m guessing prices will go down, and if you can pay in cash (euros for the moment!) then you can probably get yourself a good bargain..

And of course we can’t forget the Greek food, which has been fantastic, which I will write about in a separate post..

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