Suitcase and World: Road Trip to Katakolo.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Road Trip to Katakolo.

Our drive took us deep into the heart of the Peloponnese region.

We both had a great night's sleep - hopefully, enough that we've kicked our jet lag.  A picture perfect sunny day awaited us.  I had to enjoy some time on the balcony before getting ready for the day.

Then, it was breakfast in the hotel.  We arrived just about half hour before breakfast ended so it was slim pickings at the buffet table.  Even so, I was able to put together a belly filling plate.  We took a table next to the window and the view of the water made up for the lack of food options.

Today we would be spending the day driving to our next destination, the seaside town of Katakolo.  We would be spending the night there.  Originally, the plan was to drive to and spend the night in the town of Olympia but two weeks ago, I switched it over to Katakolo.  I wasn't pleased with our accommodation options in Olympia and so I looked for options in nearby towns. Katakolo is located only about 20 kilometers away from Olympia and offered a nicer accommodation for the money so I made the change at the last minute.  The one downside to Katakolo is that it is the launch point for cruise ship passengers stopping to visit Olympia.  I hope we're not going to be drowned out by cruise ship tourists.

According to Google maps, it would only be about a three hour drive from Nafplio to Katakolo but given that we don't know what the road conditions are actually like, we planned on a five hour drive, possibly more if we do any stops.

We hadn't seen much of Nafplio yet so we decided to spend some time this morning to explore more of this charming town.  After breakfast, we checked out and piled our luggage into the trunk of the car.  We then set out to wander about town. 

More pretty streets.

Bro had read about a luxury hotel, the Hotel Nafplia Palace, perched high up on a hill, that offered views of the sea so we decided to try and find it.  Our walk took us up the hillside behind our hotel.  Along the way were plenty of fig trees which Bro was eyeing for fruit to pick.  Unfortunately for him, the season is over - whatever fruit there was was now lying, rotting, on the ground.  But I know him, this won't deter him.  He'll keep looking :-)  He was also eyeing all the cactus fruit, or tuna as we have come to call it ever since we first tasted the fruit on our trip to Mexico in 2011.  Yes, he was tempted to pick a few but too bad for him, none were ripe :-)

It took a bit of wandering but eventually we not only found the hotel but we made it up to the terrace overlooking the water.  Indeed the view was spectacular!

Our walk took us near Palamidi Castle.  If we had had the time, we would have climbed the nearly 1000 steps to the top but it was not to be as there was no time.

But, the views along the walk were fantastic!  We both marveled at the beautiful turquoise green color of the water.

Palamidi Castle, high up on the high.

Our walk looped us back down towards Syntagma Square.  I had one quick view of this charming old town before leaving.  By now, we had to go.  Road trip calling!

Three Admiral's Square.  The monument contains the bones of Dimitrios Ypsilandis, one of the leaders of the Greek revolution.

Ms. Garmin did not have an entry for our hotel in Katakolo so I switched over to Google Maps instead.  As much as we expected that Ms. Google would lead us out of Nafplio via some big road, we quickly found ourselves back among the *backyards and driveways* that we passed through yesterday afternoon.  There were plenty of orchards with trees laden with citrus and olives that will soon be ready for picking.

We also passed a lot of what looked to be roadside memorials but a quick check on Google taught us that they are roadside shrines, very typical feature on Greek roads.  In some cases, the shrines are erected in memory of an accident victim but more often than not, they are built by a survivor of a potentially tragic accident, or to publicly thank a saint for a benefit.

Some of the shrines were very simple in design while others were quite elaborate, looking like miniature Greek churches.  I made Bro stop so I could take a photo of one.

Inside there was a small candle and a picture of a saint.

As much as Bro joked about the back roads we were driving through, both of us actually enjoyed the ride through the Greek countryside.  For the most part, there were few cars on the roads so it was a pleasant drive.

But all good things have to come to an end.  Soon, we were back on the main road.  Lucky the scenery was still wonderful.

When we arrived into the town of Argos, we saw another castle high up on a hill.  For a moment, we thought Ms. Google had looped us back to Nafplio! :-)

Bro at the helm.

We just hoped they weren't posting up an important message.

Great roads, easy driving.

Our drive through the Peloponnese took us through many a small town.  When Bro's stomach started to growl, we just happened to be driving through the main square of a very small town.  It looked like the perfect place for a break.  So we stopped for a picnic lunch of items that we had taken from the breakfast buffet.  We found a nice spot, next to a church, to sit and eat.  We had no idea what town we were in though....until later.

After snacking a bit, we decided to walk around the town square.  We didn't get far before our noses detected the mouthwatering aroma of meat being cooked over fire.  We passed by a place where they were roasting skewers of meat over open flame. It smelled SOOO good but we had just eaten so we passed by.  Then, we came upon another restaurant with more skewers of meat being flamed cook and they even had a chuck of delectable looking pork roast, crispy skin and all.  It was simply too much to resist so we took a table.

The taverna we ate at.  Blurry photo of the menu cover.

The waiter spoke just enough English for us to understand that what we wanted to order, the meat on a stick, is what they call souvlaki.  Not the souvlaki that I know but this is Greece so this is the real thing.  I wanted the pork and Bro the chicken - we ordered skewers of each as well as a Greek salad, to share.  Considering we had already eaten, this was gluttony and we were loving it!

After taking our order, I asked the waiter the name of the town we were in - "Levidi", he replied.

Greek salad

The scrumptious pork souvlaki.
We both agreed the Greek salad is a simple but very refreshing bite, especially when they chill the plate of ingredients before serving.  We also agreed the pork souvlaki was divine - the meat flavorful and juicy yet not fatty.  I could eat those every day.

We had plenty of visitors waiting for handouts.

Melon and supersweet grapes for dessert.

Our drive to Levidi had taken us north from Nafplio.  From this point onwards, we would be heading west towards Katakolo and the Ionian Sea.

We wound our way up through mountains, down through valleys, and through several small towns and villages.  It was a beautiful day for a ride through the Greek countryside.

The landscape is quite arid here; dotted with olive tree orchards. The one thing that surprised us was that we never came across any cows, goats or sheep - nothing grazing.  Given how much the Greeks love their meat, we wondered where their farm animals were.

The road was curvy at times, especially when it ran through a village that hugged the hillside.  Luckily, I could warn Bro of the curves courtesy of Ms. Google.

Ms Google was proving her worth to us but she was seriously draining the battery on my phone.  Using the car charger I bought proved to be useless as Ms. Google was sucking the life out of my Samsung Galaxy S4 faster than the car charger could replenish the battery.  Luckily, I had brought along the external battery that my sister had given me.  That worked.  For much of the afternoon, I had my phone plugged into the external battery via the USB connector.  The things you have to do to get around! :-)

By late afternoon, we arrived into Katakolo.  The main street that ran through old town was mobbed, I mean seriously mobbed with cruise ship tourists!  HORRORS!  We snailed our way along, avoiding tourists who obviously thought the road also belonged to them. Katakolo nightmare had come true.  I just kept my fingers crossed that they would retreat back to their ship for dinner, leaving Katakolo for us non-cruise shippers.

Ms. Google led us up to the Orizontes View Hotel, perched high up on a hill overlooking Katakolo.  We would have never found the hotel without Ms. Google - it's address is simply Katakolo Hill.....not exactly precise.

We entered into a very modern hotel - it is relatively new.  Our room was very comfortable, the furnishings very modern and it had all the amenities we needed.  Plus, it had a view, in the far distance, of the Ionian Sea. We settled in and rested for a bit before heading out in search of a place to have dinner.

I was dreading the drive back to town but as I had predicted, the cruise shippers had indeed retreated.  The main street was quiet, dead quiet.  Unfortunately, without the cruise ship folks, the shops were also shutting down for the day.  Katakolo was a virtual ghost town!  So much for a pre-dinner walk through town!

Main street was pretty devoid of eating establishments. We happened upon a souvlaki place that looked open but they too were just about to close.  Man, this place really does exist for the cruise shippers.   I was starting to regret staying here....perhaps Olympia would have been the better choice.  I have to remind myself to not second guess my instincts when it comes to deciding on where to stay.

Luckily, we found our way to the port side promenade.  There looked to be plenty of places to grab a bit and a drink....that is, until we realized that most were also set up to cater to the cruise shippers which mean high priced drinks and meze plates.  Surprisingly, there were only two full fledged restaurants. The first one we stopped by had a nice selection of fresh fish, displayed on ice.  The owner spotted me and came out to try and convince us to sit down and have a meal. Just as I was about to walk away, he insisted on dragging me to see his fish offerings.  He opened up the door to a refrigerator and pulled out a couple of drawers filled with fish.  When he tried pawn off fish that was obviously days old as fresh, I decided I wasn't about to eat here.  I know fresh fish when I see it and this guy was trying to pull the wool over my eyes.  I didn't like that so I told Bro we were leaving.  The owner noticed my displeasure and kept trying to get me to see more fish but I was in no mood to waste my time.

On the other far end of the promenade was a small restaurant.  The menu looked fine and so we took a table right next to the water.  I ordered a small plate of sardines and Bro had more meat on a stick. 

While we waited for our meal to arrive, we watch the fishermen pull in for the day.

The anchovies were okay but the pearl sized olives that accompanied them were absolutely delicious!

We lingered over dinner, no need to rush.  By the time we were ready to go, the sun had long set.  On our way back to the car, we stopped to watch a lone fisherman reel in his catch.  He was a very friendly fellow so we chatted with him for a bit. I'm quickly finding out that Greeks are super friendly.....and they love to talk and laugh.  I think we're going to enjoy our interactions with them!

Tomorrow we're visiting ancient Olympia before driving on to Delphi.  It's finally sinking in that we're in Greece and I am already thoroughly enjoying myself.

Goodnight from Katakolo!