2000-05 (MAY, 2000)


Day One: London > Athens > Patras: We decided on the plane to head for the Ionian islands (in the Adriatic) instead of the Aegean islands, as they looked a bit different. Arrived in Athens at 14:30. Baggage claim in Athens airport was a laugh! Taxi to Stathmos Peloponnissou. Waited for the 18:30 train to Patras in the station café. Nice coffee! Arrived Patras at 22:00. Lodged at the comfortable, but pricy, El Greco on Ayiou Andhreou (street).

Day Two: Patras > Kefalonia. Up early to ensure we caught the ferry. No need for the rush, however, as the only one today was not until 12:30. Hung around and had an early lunch at the station café. Bloody good meal, actually! Arrived at Sami (Kefalonia) at 16:00 and found our way to the Ionian Hotel. Very nice and very central. Unpacked, freshened up and went exploring. Dined at a pretty good taverna and then strolled along the waterfront while the balmy sea breeze blew over us. Home by 23:00.

Day Three: Awoke early to the rich smell of rain - only Andy and I could manage to find a Greek island where it rains in summer! Very heavy rain all day. Ventured out for a late breakfast/brunch (I brought my rain coat and was thus "volunteered" to make a preliminary excursion to obtain some rainwear for Andy). Suitably protected we went to The Mermaid for lunch - Greek salad and Greek coffee. Hunger sated, we wandered around in search of an activity. There is no tourist office in Sami, but one of the ferry agents filled us in. We would need a taxi to get up to the Dhrogarati caves (finding a taxi was problematic) and I wanted to see the Melissani caves (see photos) in the sunshine, so we bought some yummy supplies and returned to our hotel to wait out the rain. Several hours and many pages of my book later (Andy drew pictures) it became obvious that, whilst the rain had eased somewhat, the likelihood of blue sky today was slim. At 16:00 we decided to go to the Dhrogarati caves in spite of the weather. We hailed an ancient Mercedes taxi which took us the 4 km to the caves in faded style. The cave itself required a several hundred metre descent down a slippery concrete staircase, round perilous turns and through deceptive gift shops. Once inside, the simple pleasure of being out of the rain was quickly replaced by awe. The entire ceiling of the massive cave was crammed with stalactites of all shapes and sizes - one hundred thousand Swords of Damocles (see photos). The acoustics of the main chamber were amazing. In the past the cave has been used as a concert venue - Maria Callas once sang here. Upon setting out on our homeward journey, we were treated to a renewed deluge. The driver of a passing van took pity on us and we piled into the back. We chatted whilst he drove us back to the village. He asked us if we had noticed the movie set behind our hotel - apparently the filming for Captain Correlli's Mandolin (a recent Louis De Berniez novel) was due to commence in a couple of days time. The pair of drowned rats we had become returned to our room for the rest of the afternoon and evening.

Day Four: Up early(ish!). Breakfasted on the rest of our bread, fruit and cheese. At 10:00 we checked out and, leaving our bags with the lovely man that runs our hotel, we headed out on foot up to the Melissani Cave lake, some 2 km away from Sami. The lake is actually the outlet for an underground fault that runs the whole way under the island from Argostoli (some 20 km away). The beautiful textures and shades created by the light pouring through the collapsed roof of the cave are just fabulous. The sky was a bit overcast for us, which was a shame, but the lake was impressive none the less (see photos). We got back to Sami just before midday. Our bus to Argostoli was not until 13:00, so we had a wee coffee break and watched the world go by. We then had an explore around the Correlli set, collected our bags, and joined our bus. The 24 km journey took 45 minutes and was a most pleasant way to see the islands interior. Argostoli is a lot bigger than Sami and we had a little more difficulty finding a hotel. In the end we settled for the Kefalonia Star Hotel on the waterfront. Our rooftop room (4th floor) had a veranda with a view on three sides, which was fab. After a brief relax, we wandered into town. We lunched at the Captain's Table and then returned to our room for a short siesta. As is often the way with short siestas we didn't awake until 20:30. Ah well - time for dinner! We pootled around for a while and stopped in at the bus station to see about transport to Peratata where there is a monastery and the ruins of a Venetian castle. We dined at the Anonymous Tavern - good chicken souvalaki! Home and in bed by 23:30.

Day Five: Up at 08:00 and over to the tourist office for 08:30, when it opened. Asked many questions, but came away little the wiser. Had breakfast and decided to continue with our plan to spend another night in Argostoli and to spend the day braving the island's local bus system in order to see some of the inland "attractions". Our 10:00 bus to Scala dropped us on the outskirts of Peratata. We then plodded up the steep hill to the village of Castro where the massive castle of Ayios Yeoryios (St George), the medieval Venetian capital of the island, stands (see photos). We arrived at the same time as a bus load of wrinklies, so we tagged along on the off chance we scored a free guided tour (and perhaps even entry!). Unfortunately, the castle was closed for renovation - a fact I felt that the tourist office might have mentioned to us before we had got this far. Still, the café was open, so we stayed for an early lunch. The second destination of the day was the nunnery of Ayios Andhreas (St Andrew), some 2 km away across the valley. We walked over and arrived at 13:40 - ten minutes after they had closed for their afternoon siesta. We were not having a successful day! We plonked ourselves down outside the gates to wait until 17:00, when they reopened. I drew a picture of the castle across the valley. We wandered into the grounds around 16:30 and Andy sat and drew whilst I took photos. At 17:00 sharp the doors opened and we were admitted to the tiny, but exquisite, museum. Tens of pre-Renaissance pictures and carvings were on display and the full Orthodox church alter was breathtaking. We stayed until 17:30 and had to hurry back down to the valley road to catch our (hopefully) returning bus. We got back to Argostoli by 18:30 without too much bother. We cleaned ourselves up and headed out to the Paraktion Pizza Restaurant for dinner - good pizza and an odd, but friendly, waiter. Home to bed by 21:30 (in time for an early start tomorrow).

Day Six: Up at 08:00 and out the door at 08:30 - time enough for a leisurely breakfast before our 10:00 bus up to Fiskardo. The route north goes up some very dramatic roads on the western side of the island, passing Mytros beach and Asos on the way. We changed busses at Siniori. Arrived at Fiskardo at 12:00 and checked into the Regina Hotel for the night. Dumped our stuff and headed out to explore "the prettiest village on the island" (which it most definitely was!). Fiskardo is one of the few villages to have survived the 1953 earthquake and is thus a lot more "authentic" than other Kefalonian villages. It is also a favourite with the sailing community, which has ensured a certain level of financial encouragement to remain "quaint" and "charming". Before long we had found a wee beach and plonked ourselves down for the afternoon. The water is to die for! Several swims later, we wandered back to the waterfront for a late afternoon coffee and some evening planning. One of the historical features of Fiskardo is a pair of lighthouses - one Venetian, the other Victorian. Our pre-dinner stroll took in both, plus a ruined castle on a spur overlooking the little harbour. Pre-prondial gin & tonics were supped with our toes overhanging the water's edge, soft music playing, sun setting, yachts sighing. Dinner was not so good, but the local stray cat population went to bed significantly better fed than we suspect was usual. Retired early with plans to rent a boat tomorrow.

Day Seven: Up at 08:00 again and down to the harbour front for the most expensive cappuchino in Greece (in preparation, me thinks, for Venice!). Stocked up on food supplies at the supermarket. We then went to the boat hire shop and got the only boat that hadn't been booked for the day - that was lucky! We pootled down the coast and found a secluded bay for breakfast and the first swim of the day - lovely! At about 12:00 we upped anchor and continued down the coast, occasionally stopping to take photos or go for a swim. We passed a bay with a sunken boat (see photo) and a wee island with an abandoned church on it (see photo). After lunch Andy took over the helm and drove us over to Ithika, about 4 km away. We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the caves and bays of Ithika. At about 16:30 we braved the return across the stretch of water between Ithika and Kefalonia. The wind had got up a bit and the crossing was a little bumpy. We anchored to leeward of the headland one bay round from the spur on which the two lighthouses stand, had our last swim of the day and I read another chapter of "The Shape of Speed", the Bruce Farr biography. Back to port just after 18:00 and back to our room for showers and some aftersun. Down to our harbour-side Taverna for G&Ts by the sea and dinner at Tassia before retiring - a rather fab day all round.

Day Eight: Our last full day on Kefalonia. We headed over to the water front for our morning coffee. A quick stop at the bakery (for spinach pies and yummy cakes) and the supermarket (for fruit and water) and we were off to Emblisi beach. We found our own private spot on the rocky ledges away from main beach and swam, sunbathed and read until 15:30. We zoomed back into the village, picked up our bags and boarded our 16:30 bus back to Sami. The route took us down the third side of our triangular tour of Kefalonia. Once in Sami we found a cheap room near the wharf (so as to be nearby for our 08:30 ferry tomorrow morning). Showered and changed and headed over to the waterfront to get some dinner and check on the progress of the Captain Correlli's Mandolin filming - didn't see any stars, though.

Day Nine: Travel day today. Sami to Patras by ferry and Patras to Athens by train. We arrived at Patras at 11:00 to discover that the midday service to Athens was full - as was the next one after that. So we had to wait until 15:30 to get a train - bummer! The one we eventually caught was a "regular" train (rather than an "express" train), so we didn't get into Athens until 21:00. Then we were given a lesson in how taxis in Athens work: 1. They pick up who they want, when they want - it is common to pick up a new set of passengers before dropping off the last set and/or to check where you are going to see if they want to go there or not. 2. Orderly queuing is discouraged but the occasional fist fight is OK (the one we witnessed had to be broken up by one of the pugilist's 80 year old mother). 3. Once in a cab, the fare meters are simply random number generators with some buttons on - our 4 km journey from the train station to our pensione cost double the fare to the airport!? We finally arrived at our pensione about 23:00 - one hell of a long day travelling on Greek public transport! We met our landlady (a lovely, if somewhat eccentric, British lady), got our room key, and collapsed in our cute, but rather dilapidated, room.

Day Ten: Athens exploration day. Ahhh, pungent, aromatic Athens - the nasal equivalent of a chlorine enema. The plethora of shoe scrappers at every doorstep confused us at first (there is no mud anywhere?!), that is until the extensive canine population made it's presence (squishily) felt. After a yummy breakfast (that was included with our room) we wandered over to the Acropolis (some 10 minutes away from our residence). We were there by 09:00, but there were already 14 tourist busses parked outside, with more arriving by the minute. We surfed the crowd in and managed to stay ahead of them until we got to the Acropolis Museum. The museum was very interesting, but the crowds, which had caught up with us by then, made it a little claustrophobic. We continued around the site - which is spectacular - and then headed down to the Plaka for lunch. We lingered a while and then decided to return to our pensione in order to restore our flagging energies with a wee siesta. At 18:00 we were out again, this time for a long stroll before dinner which took in some of Athens' less appealing highways and byways. We stopped for drinks and dinner at 20:00 - beware: the Greek version on a G&T has no tonic in it - just ice and gin! One nice (and cheap) dinner later and we returned once again to our abode. We got chatting to our landlady and her interesting friend (an octogenarian, protestant minister from Georgia, USA who had a passion for Drambue and was recovering from having his eye and parts of his brain removed in an Athenian hospital whilst on his stay in town - bizarre!!) He talked about his navy days in WWII. To bed at 23:00 so that we could arise at 04:30.


Day Eleven: Up early and off to Athens Airport for our flight to Rome. Train from Rome to Verona, with a change at Bologna. Arrived at Verona at 15:25. Got a 2 star hotel (luxury compared to Greece!) in Piazza Erbe - the main square in Verona (see photos). A much needed scrub and laundry mission and it was time for an early dinner (I hadn't eaten all day). Fairly average meal at a restaurant recommended by our hotel receptionist - we'll do our own thing tomorrow I feel. In bed by 22:00, tired from several nights of broken sleep.

Day Twelve: Explore Verona day. We began our walk (naturally enough) in Piazza Erbe. The piazza is a real mish mash of great facades, statuary and monuments. Here you can see two fountains (one dating from Roman times), an 84 metre high clock tower (Torre dei Lamberti), a lion-topped column (Colona di San Marco) the medieval Palazzo della Ragione (Palace of Reason) and the 17th century Palazzo Maffei with it's impressive statue-packed facade. Next we passed under the Arco della Costa (the arch of the rib), named after the whale's rib that is suspended (for no apparent reason) from the apex of the arch, into the Piazza dei Signori. The centrepiece of the piazza is a statue of Dante. It is also surrounded by frescoed walls and rooftop statues. There is an entrance to the tower that overlooks Piazza Erbe - the view from the top is breathtaking (see photos). Proceeding along Santa Maria In Chiavica we passed the ornate Scaligeri Tombs outside the little Romanesque church of Santa Maria Antica. Up Cavaletto and along Corso Sant' Anastasia and we arrived at the first church on the day's list of "must sees" - Sant' Anastasia. Begun in 1290, it is the largest church in Verona and is bedecked from floor to ceiling with frescos and carvings - hardly any wall space on the interior was not decorated in some way. Next we walked around the river to the Duomo which was a bit garish for my taste. The Romanesque baptistery was better and Sant' Elena chapel (8th century) was fab. Continuing around the river, we passed San Lorenzo (a gorgeous wee Romanesque church), the Castle Vecchio and it's adjoining bridge. Further round we stopped at San Zeno church which had a beautiful cloisters adjacent to it. Back into the centre, we visited the Verona Arena, the third largest stone amphitheatre in the world, built in 30AD and still in very good condition. From there we meandered back up to Piazza dei Signori and into the unusual Galleria D'Arte Moderna E Contemporanea to see the Life Magazine exhibition called "Moving". Photographs relating to early and mid twentieth century transport were displayed in a subterranean museum largely dedicated to the display of the excavated foundations of Roman ruins - a fabulous exhibition in a fabulous setting. We returned to our hotel to freshen up. Dinner was splendid - five courses, four different wines, and I even got the recipe of my appetiser written out for me on a small scroll for me (in Italian, however!).

Day Thirteen: Today we caught the train to Peschiera on Lake Garda and purchased a round trip ferryboat ticket to Garda, Gardone, Sirmione, and back to Peschiera. The lake was very pretty. Lunch was in Gardone. At Sirmione we explored the Rocca Scaligeri, an amazing 13th century castle that extends it's walls into the lake to create a safe harbour. We strolled up the coast a wee way and I read whilst Andy sketched. At 19:35 we were collected by a hydrofoil and zoomed back to Peschiera in style. By the time we had got back to our hotel we were too exhausted to go out for dinner.

Day Fourteen: To Venice today! Up very early (by way of setting the alarm wrong!) and were at the train station before we realised - doh! Still it meant we got into Venice earlier than planned. We caught the number 82 vaparetto (boat-bus) to St Mark's square as our hotel was near by - the nature of Venice's address system precluding a more specific location. We found it by asking around and got a room overlooking a small canal. Unpacked and freshened up. We chose Castello as the sestiere to explore today. We followed a short walk out of one of our guide books - but it was a little dull. After a stop for lunch, we took in a longer walk around the islands to the east of Castello, all the way down to Sant' Elena and back again. Back to our hotel for a siesta and showers. Vaparetto to San Toma and up into Campo San Toma for dinner at a very average restaurant. Two bottles of red wine helped, though! Vaparetto to Accademia and a mapless walk home through San Marco - a lovely late night stroll!

Day Fifteen: Up very early to look around Piazza San Marco before breakfast. It was lovely at that time - we had the piazza to ourselves, in marked contrast with later in the day! After breakfast we walked through San Marco to the Rialto Bridge. Through San Polo to Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari to begin another guide book walk (done in reverse, which was interesting to navigate by text only - it helped to walk backwards!) The route took in the Scuola Grands di San Roco, San Pantalon, the Campo di Santa Margherita, San Trovasa and finished at the Zattere vaparetto stop (on the southern side of sestiere Dorsoduro). We had lunch at a gorgeous pizzeria and then caught the vaparetto back to San Marco. Home for a siesta (Andy wasn't feeling well). Out again at 17:00 for a walk around the Fenice area of San Marco. Shopped for stationery and gifts. Snacked instead of dinner and just wandered around for a while. Wound up in Campo Santo Stefano and stopped for a coffee and the most expensive ice-cream in the world at Gelateria Paolin. More wandering and home at a civilised hour.

Day Sixteen: Walked up to Ca' Pesaro to discover that it was closed for renovation. Vaparetto from San Stue to San Marcuola. Wandered up to, and through, the Ghetto area of the Cannaregio sestiere (where the word 'ghetto' originated from) and the followed another guidebook route through northern Venice. It terminated at the Ca' d'Oro vaparetto stop and from there we floated down to our home stop. I siestaed while Andy went shopping. Up again and out for a late lunch. Vaparetto around to Accademia and a flying visit to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, which was bollocks - very pretentious altogether. Home again, as we were both a bit "sight seeing"ed out. Dinner was at Taverna San Trovaso - the yummy place we had been to lunch at the other day. Another lovely walk home.

Day Seventeen: Our last full day - boo hoo! Out to the lagoon islands today. First to Burano - the lace-making island. We explored on foot and tried to escape far from the maddening crowds. We had a quick look inside Scuola dei Merletti and then went and sat in the sun beside the sea for an hour or two. Next was Murano - the glass-making island. Again, we explored on foot for a while and then had a good look around the Venetian Glass Museum, which I had been especially looking forward to. It was very disappointing - a long way from the masterworks of Venetian glass makers that I had been expecting (on the strength of an excellent glass exhibition that we saw in the V&A last year). Vaparetto back to San Marco and a trip to the supermarket to get supplies for a picnic dinner. Packed, settled our bill and headed out for one last stroll around the city at night (actually ended up being a boat ride, but hey!).

Day Eighteen: Home today. Up very early and onto the boat to the airport. Back in our real home by 13:00. The end!

Conclusions: Greece - lovely, but get a car (or yacht) if you're going anywhere that you can't walk around the entirety of. Avoid Athens like the plague. I'd like to see how the Aegean islands compare with the Ionian (Adriatic) ones. Verona - absolutely fabulous! Pretty, lived in, largely lacking in tourists, and friendly. Venice - has novelty value, but "faded grandeur" has slid into "dilapidated theme park". Packed full of Americans and Japanese. Very expensive and no way of escaping being fleeced morning, noon, and night. Not one for the top of the list any more.