Going downhill

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This morning I walked down through Megali Mandineia to the coast. En route I noticed that the VW camper van is still there at least 25 years on. From the village to the coast I was accompanied at a distance by two good-humoured dogs. They seemed to have nothing better to do; perhaps they thought that Godot had finally arrived. At one point I thought our pack of 3 was going to become 4 when a barking dog wriggled out from under a gate and followed at a distance. However he was only interested in weeing over the marks that the first two dogs had already left within a certain distance from his home.

This evening in town I had a coffee at a busy junction opposite the old weighbridge and watched the world (well, traffic mostly) go by. It appeared chaotic but was in fact orderly in its own way. I tried to slot myself into the picture and felt too old and staid to make the attempt. That smelly junction should have been depressing  – particularly after reading so much about air pollution and anthropogenic climate change in the papers recently – but I was more taken by the bustle (however pointless it was) and the astonishing intricacy of urban life (no matter that it’s eating itself).

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Talking in Bed by Philip Larkin

Talking in bed ought to be easiest,
Lying together there goes back so far,
An emblem of two people being honest.
Yet more and more time passes silently.
Outside, the wind’s incomplete unrest
Builds and disperses clouds in the sky,
And dark towns heap up on the horizon.
None of this cares for us. Nothing shows why
At this unique distance from isolation
It becomes still more difficult to find
Words at once true and kind,
Or not untrue and not unkind.

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White crocus

A repeat of last year’s ride, except that I also saw some exquisite white crocuses.

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Viros Gorge

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Viros Gorge from the south side

Eat your heart out, Caspar David Friedrich.

I had never cycled the short stretch of dead-end road above Exohori . . . but what an end! The path continues further into the gorge, and it both beckoned and repelled me. I could imagine losing myself in the immensity of the gorge and its steep sides, and for a moment I had a feeling close to vertigo.

Diverting my attention from the sublime to the mundane, I appreciated the helpful sign:

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and, further up, noticed that beehives had been placed on old car tyres to raise them off the ground. There was something about the hives that reminded me of the robots in Silent Running.

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Altogether, a beautiful morning’s ride.

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Filiatra

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Two impressive bits of metalwork in Filiatra

I was unfair to Marathopolis yesterday. On my walk to buy some toothpaste this morning I discovered the older kernel of the village. (Given what an ideal position it is in, Marathopolis may indeed be a very old port.) It was the usual crossroad cluster of low buildings at a slight distance from the sea. (The rusty metal in the seaside hotel was a reminder of how corrosive the salty air can be.) There were mulberry trees and hibiscus by the side of the road, and it was altogether prettier than the surrounding new buildings. There is also a lot of wild fennel, which presumably gives the place its name.

And so to Filiatra, which was my reason for coming here. I did wonder en route if it was going to be worth it: the barking stray dogs on the coastal road were a concern, but I survived by shouting insults and using passing vehicles to shield myself. I had a look at the bay where I didn’t swim yesterday: it looked lovely.

I came across Filiatra’s replica of the Eiffel Tower by chance about 30 years ago and I had a hankering to see it again. Contrary to the cliché, it’s actually bigger than I remember it. Is it indeed the one I saw saw? It’s also become a tourist attraction: it was surrounded by elderly German cyclists when I arrived. (I had passed a coach with a bike trailer on the way into Filiatra; the two may have been connected.) Filiatra’s other sight – an enormous globe outside the school – wasn’t as it was. The original had probably crumbled (it looked fragile all those years ago), and this may be a replacement. Once I’d seen them and had a coffee, there wasn’t much else to do, since Filiatra is basically a town of tractor repairers and fertiliser shops.

So I decided to cycle back to Gargaliani on the main road and catch a bus from there. There were more dogs, and I used the same tactics. There was little traffic, but some of it was bullying. The tide mark of roadside rubbish was solid. All this, combined with my recollection of old newspaper reports of farmers here mistreating their Bangladeshi labourers, made me feel that I had wandered into a rough neighbourhood. Unfortunately I dropped the dog dazer in the last few kilometres and I think it’s broken. Ten years I’ve been carrying that thing around, and I’ve used it more in the last two days . . .

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Marathopolis from Gargaliani plateau with the little isle of Proti in the background

Back in Gargaliani, the first conversation I overheard and semi-understood was about the price of olives in Spain and Italy. Once I was sure of my bus, I enjoyed sitting in a café in the main square; it’s always best to remove the anxiety of getting stranded somewhere before having a coffee.

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Gargaliani

There were more dogs (docile this time) in Gargaliani.

I’ll probably never come this way again. I feel quite unsettled about reconciling my previous self who did cycle this way with my future self who won’t.

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Elsewhere in Greece

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Gargaliani perched on its plateau

I sat out this afternoon’s dramatic thunderstorms in a café in Gargaliani (masculine plural, as I eventually recalled), spinning out my χωριάτικη σαλάτα. As the heavy rain turned briefly to hail, I heard behind me a cry that it would damage the olives.

Yes, I have left behind picture-postcard Greece and headed to a town where the main industry is agriculture rather than tourism. I grew tired of hearing as much English and Swedish as Greek in my usual beautiful spot and wanted a change. (Some of the Greek I heard seemed to express similar – if less light-hearted – xenophobic sentiments: on the bus to Gargaliani a couple of elderly Greeks were complaining of villages full of Albanians and islands full of foreigners.)

Well, I’ve got what I wanted. There’s nothing very beautiful about where I am now.

I liked Gargaliani: it’s a workaday town with no pretensions. As the lightning and rain eased, I freewheeled down to the coast through rivulets of rainwater, and then along the coast road, which was awash with muddy red puddles from field run-offs. I had booked somewhere to stay beside a sandy beach (a poor man’s Voidokhilia) to allow a couple of easy swims. It was obvious from the web photos that the rooms were basic and the hotel design excruciating, but I hadn’t bargained for its isolation and Bates Motel vibes. The tourist “offer” on this stretch of the coast is more strung out than at base camp, so the winding-down of the season leaves some places dead rather than pleasantly quiet. I made my excuses and left, and pedalled back through the puddles to Marathopolis.

I’ve just had a delicious meal (why does grilled aubergine taste so completely different from any other way of cooking it?), so I shan’t be quite as harsh on Marathopolis as I was feeling a couple of hours ago. It looks as if it was once a port for Gargaliani and the hinterland, but these days it’s trying to become a nice little resort. It hasn’t worked. Half the buildings are either derelict or unfinished; it has no beach; I’ve only seen one pleasant building; and it’s the only village I’ve been to where I’ve made a point of carrying – and using – the dog dazer. (It sort of works: the dog looks puzzled for a moment.) It’s charmless compared to what I am used to.

To top it all, I omitted to pack any toothpaste and it’s now too late to buy any before bedtime.

But this is what I wanted, and I’m perfectly happy to be here. It’ll make base camp seem even more delightful when I return.

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Marathopolis, with Gargaliani in the background

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Swimming

The sea (if not the shoreline) is almost back to normal after cyclone Zorbas (which, I learn, is called by a pharmaceutical-sounding hybrid – a “medicane”); it’s regained its usual October clarity and glassiness. I can now see clearly my regular underwater landmarks: the solitary rock covered in sea grass and the beach umbrella base.

Today I also swam in Kalamitsi bay for the first time this year. It involves a hair-raising walk along the road and a slightly slippery descent to the path so I don’t often go there, but it’s worth it for the eventual swim. I saw again the spots where the autumn crocuses are so profuse that it’s difficult not to tread on them. My regular swimming spot is very pleasant but I treat it as two very long lengths; in Kalamitsi bay however I explore and navigate by what is below me. There are always lots of shoals of small fish. Today I swam for so long that I now have a sunburnt back; when I swam out from the bay it was deserted except for me, and when I returned there were eight other people in residence.

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