This week Paula asks us to post our best photo from 2017. I wasn’t sure where to start, but decided to reprise the cricket which, the first time around, Ark kindly identified as a Katydid or bush cricket. It is certainly my most surprising shot of the year – both for its clarity and the fact the cricket appears to have been watching me while I organised myself with the camera. I also like the curving grasses and the bands of light and shade, and the way the cricket appears to be super-illuminated. But best of all, it reminds me of Kalamata, and the mesmerizing views of the Taygetos and the Mani across the Gulf of Messinia for I find myself still badly smitten with the Peloponnese. Ah, well. Maybe next year…
Six Word Saturday Pop over to Debbie’s for more six-word posts and an astonishing view of Alice. And just in case you wanted to know, this cricket was spotted in the garden of the Iconpainter’s Villas in Greece.
We had been promised rain, and rain it did, pounding off the pantile roofs, turning the veranda steps into cascades. By lunchtime the shining Gulf that had been our view all morning was sunk in steely gloom while the Taygetos had dissolved completely. (How can mountain ranges disappear like that?)
It was not a good start to the holiday. But the six of us gathered together in one little house, and some of us prepared bruschetta using up the solid Greek bread together with the more delicious tomatoes and garlic from Maria’s garden, which we tucked into to the sound of tumbling rain.
But at last the storm bursts eased, and across the valley the cockerel began to crow, and among the garden olive trees the crickets sang, and the grasses steamed. A consensus of smart phone forecasts also suggested that the rain had passed – well, more or less, and that it might now be timely to set off to Harakopio and discover what its supermarket offered in the way of supper supplies.
We set off under cloudy skies, following directions on Maria’s hand-drawn map, which Bob had snapped with his cell phone. It was a one and half mile walk, we were told, mostly on level paths, and with our backs to the sea. Hopefully we would not lose ourselves on the network of byways between Harakopio and Kombi. We were also told that if we bought too much stuff to carry back to tell the girls at the supermarket and they would keep it until Michael was next passing in his car. Our hosts at the Iconpainter’s Villas left no stone unturned to ensure our every comfort and happiness.
And so here are some of the sights and vistas on our path as it wound through olive groves and vineyards, by ramshackle farmsteads and deluxe villas, our passing marked by proprietorial, but good-natured barking from farmyard dogs. Otherwise, all was quietness. No cars. No distant traffic drone. Only our soft chatter. There were wild cyclamen growing along the verges, fennel and rosemary, shrubby Kermes oaks with their spiny acorn cups and leaves like holly, prickly pears, morning glory. And as I went, I fell in love with olive trees, their stillness, their gnarly boles and contorted branches, the muted tones, the changes in light beneath and between the trees as the sun came out once more.
And on our return trip, well laden with good Greek produce, we again looked to the sea where the storm clouds were finally clearing, and beneath all was ethereal blue with the Taygetos doing their mirage impression. It would be a fine evening.
copyright 2017 Tish Farrell
We’d tried to overlook the fact that rain and storm had been forecast during our seven-day trip to the Peloponnese. But here it came, quite dissolving the Mani peninsula, stilling the waters of the Gulf, giving them an ominously bruised look.
But then the drama of light and mood more than made up for the downpour, and once we had learned that the rain was responsible for boosting the oil content of the olives, and that the locals were pinning their hopes on a good harvest come November, it seemed churlish to feel resentful. Besides, Kalamata olive oil is some of the best there is. More power to its production and all who grow it is all I can say.
P.S. I was sure I had posted this on Monday for Ailsa’s Travel Theme: Storm thus preceding Peroulia Dreaming #9 with the brolly.
But this morning I found I hadn’t. So here it is (with apologies for a few extra words) for Debbie’s Six Word Saturday
We found these tiny Greek cyclamen growing in the most unpromising places – in rocky clefts and on bone-dry litter among the pines below Pylos Castle. We also found them clinging to the cliff above Peroulia Beach, rooted in the arid cliff path where people keep walking on them. They seemed to be thriving.
Travel With Intent This Sunday Debbie is in the pink. Please pay her a visit.
It was a family celebration that brought the six of us to the Peloponnese in late September. Thoughts of Greek sunshine lured us too – after a lacklustre English summer. But as the departure date drew near, and the scanning of world weather forecasts stepped up in the hopes of better news, it was clear that the weather in Messenia was set to change. With the equinox, daily temperatures were to drop by several degrees. Now there would be cloud, rain and storm along with the sunshine. Ah, well. Better pack the waterproofs.
Yet when we came into land at Kalamata airport on Sunday lunchtime all was blue. The plane banked over the Gulf of Messenia heading out to the Mediterranean before flying back up the Mani peninsula, following the Taygetos Mountains into the airport. Blue sea. Blue mountains. Blue sky.
We stepped off the plane into high-summer warmth to be met by Dimitri, who whisked us off in his smart Mercedes people carrier. You have chosen a good time to visit, he said; not too hot.
And so it proved.
Hinterland Messenia is not pretty. It is a rugged, crumpled upland with deep valleys and winding roads, the vegetation parched from summer heat. Grass burned brown, bare earth between the trees and vines; wherever you look, the grey-green haze of olive groves spreading up and down hillsides and gullies, the dun colour palette spiked here and there: white-walled farmhouses, red tiled roofs, the odd designer villa, black spires of cypress and, at the roadside, soaring clumps of phragmites grasses with their parchment coloured plumes. There is stuff and clutter among the trees – old tyres, beach loungers, broken down farm machinery, dead cars and stranded boats. Ramshackle stalls offer pumpkins and oranges. And then the road bends towards the Gulf and you glimpse the sea, glinting like jewels, the woodcut frieze of the Mani mountains beyond.
The road south from the airport to Koroni follows the coast – we pass by Messini, Velika, Petalidi, Hrani, Nea Koroni, Vounaria – more work-a-day farming communities than high-profile tourist territory. We know that when we reach Harakopio we must leave the main road and wend up the hillside above Peroulia Beach. Michael and Maria, our hosts at the Iconpainter’s Villas, have provided a map, but in real life nothing looks straightforward. I’m relieved when it turns out that Dimitri mostly knows where he’s going.
The turn is not obvious despite the clutch of signs on the fence, and almost at once we are ‘off the beaten track’ and seemingly in someone’s front yard. The road narrows so quickly I breathe in, and next we’re zigzagging round house ends, nudging round blind corners, Dimitri tooting the horn (not too loudly), then climbing up beside a whitewashed church, then on through olive groves.
The road is single track, mostly concrete, but in places broken down to rubble. It undulates with bold intention.There are small ravines and gullies. At one point there’s a frisson of alarm from Dimitri as he fears for his Mercedes. This is no game, he says, and we agree. But he is a game lad, and he presses on.
And suddenly we are turning into a smart gateway, pulling up the drive to a tall white house, and there is Michael to greet us and show us to three lovely little houses that will be home for the next seven days.
The bright turquoise doors are a good start. In our respective kitchens we find welcome boxes for lunch and the following day’s breakfast – tomatoes, oranges and figs from the garden, Maria’s home-made lemonade and bottled baby oranges, fig jam and chutney. In the fridge there are mini bottles of Ouzo, the Iconpainter’s own white wine, local yogurt, feta cheese and honey. There is also bread, milk, butter, ground coffee and tea, iced water, brown eggs, little fruit pastries, sesame biscuits, plums and bunches of grapes. It seems we have flown straight to heaven.We put out of our minds the fact that on Thursday there will be a big storm, and side line Michael’s apologies that the likelihood of rain is high. We have been longing for it, he tells us. All the olive farmers are waiting. I know it’s not what you want.
We shrug. For now the sun is shining and it is time to eat our picnic lunch under the terrace awning hung with grapes. And then…And then it is time to throw off our travelling clothes, put on something looser and cooler and so take the path to Peroulia Beach…copyright 2017 Tish Farrell
PS I know I said I’d take you walking to Koroni. But that little trek will have to wait till the weather is cooler.
It was hard to leave, yet if we had stayed longer we might never have come home. We drank light, red wine pressed this summer from the ancient Greek Agiorgitiko grapes grown at our door, ate olives picked last autumn from the garden trees, laced our food with fragrant oil, drizzled honey over little clay pots of fresh yogurt, bit into sun-warmed figs, breathed in lavender, rosemary, oregano, rose geranium, then gazed, quite mesmerised, over the olive groves to the sea and the blue spine of the Taygetus Range. And then forgot. Everything.
We were here for seven days. On the Peloponnese (Πελοπόννησος) – the place where legend has geographical existence and the gods once roamed and made mischief. One of the gateways to the underworld is at the foot of the Mani penisula, another is at Lerne (Λέρνη) in the Argolis, where Heracles also slew the multi-headed serpent Hydra. Before that he had been in Nemea, slaying the Nemean lion. This is also the area from which Agiorgitiko vines are said to originate, and so the wine is also dubbed Blood of Hercules since it is believed to have fortified the hero before he vanquished the big cat.
Later he travelled across the northern Peloponnese in pursuit of the Ceryneian Hind and the Erymanthian Boar, while in the west he diverted the rivers Alfeois and Pineois to clean out the monumentally filthy Augean Stables. (Don’t you find it pleasing to know these fantastical events occurred in real places).
This is also the land of the Bronze Age Mycenaeans – they who were the builders of palaces, cities and tholos tombs – their centre the city of Mycenae in the north-east – until their mysterious disappearance in 1100 BCE. Homer’s tales in the Iliad have their beginnings here too, in Sparta, whence Paris eloped with Helen, and set off the whole bloody conflict that was the Trojan War.
In the Common Era, and especially from the early Middle Ages, the shores of the Peloponnese suffered serial conquests, falling under Byzantine rule twice, invaded by Slavs, Franks, Ottoman Turks (twice), Venetians (twice) – all of whom, one way and another, have left traces of their passing. And yet for all this and the many following upheavals, including the War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire in 1821 -1832, and the Civil War of 1946-49, one has the sense, at the very heart of things, that the Greeks have, and always will, remain true to their authentic selves. They live for, and of, and by land. For many, that living may be tough, and especially by cosy 21st century standards, but still they live well. You sense this as you wander the lanes past the ramshackle farms with their litter of tractor parts and decomposing cars. And here we come to the crux of the matter – the smiles and exchanges of kalimera (good morning) as we pass: for if the true measure of a civilised people is their capacity to welcome strangers, then the Greeks continue to show us the way. Indeed, many of us could learn a great deal from them.
Samuel ButlerThe Atlas of Ancient and Classical Greece, Project Gutenberg
But in case you are wondering where exactly was the location of our collective forgetting – we were staying above Peroulia Beach, among the olive groves between Kombi and Harakopio villages, 6 km north of Koroni (Κορώνη) on the easterly tip of the westernmost peninsula. Our little house at the Iconpainter’s Villas had a veranda that looked east on the Gulf of Messinia and the mountains of the Mani across the water, and south to Koroni – a hillside fishing village hugged around its harbour, the promontory behind dominated by the monolithic bastion of a huge fortress built by the Venetians in the 13th century and added to by the Ottomans in the 16th. Perhaps I’ll take you there in the next post. But be warned: it is a fair hike through the olive groves.
copyright 2017 Tish Farrell