Sunday, 26 June 2011

The Hospitality of Strangers

Returning to the van from climbing in Arco one day, we got into a conversation with a local – a man named Marco, who had been born in that very valley, left to go to Germany for work as a young adult and now returns in summer to his hut here, to enjoy his garden and relax. 

Eager to practice his admirable English and show us the hut he has made and his pictures of the area, he invited us in for a drink … then for dinner … then to park in his driveway for a few days. Every day he'd have breakfast ready for us (embarrassing us greatly the first morning as we'd already left to go climbing and we didn't wake him up to say we were heading off!), and he would make dinner in the evening too. In true Italian style, this was not just simple pasta or risotto – it was delicious!

We bought wine and took photos of his place from the cliffs above to show him. Marco claimed we were good for his English, too – but we really don't think he needed our tuition.

After three days, it was time for us to move on. So, putting his business card in Jen's wallet, we promised to stay in touch and to send him copies of our photos.

Know this man? Please tell him thank you!
Shortly afterwards, that wallet and the business card were stolen … Marco has no post to his summer hut address, and so aside from his name we have no way to contact him to thank him for all his delicious food and wonderful hospitality.

If we just sent a letter with a good guess at Marco's summer hut address, would it get there? We've tried searching online, but haven't made contact with any of Marco's relatives yet … they must be out there, right? And so the search continues.

In the meantime, this post is all we can do. Thank you, Marco. You are great fun and a fabulous host. We hope to see you again.

Friday, 24 June 2011


As the guidebook says: "Arco is the name we all know no matter where we come from. At Arco it is possible to climb almost all year round, and the rock is a gem. At Arco there is the Rock Master and the highest concentration of climbing shops in Europe, just as good if not better than Chamonix and maybe even Yosemite. And there is also the most spectacular ice cream ever tasted by a climber (to the envy of both Chamonix and Yosemite)." And there's a castle, too.
For starters, we climbed this rather impressive buttress at Mandrea ...

... which apparently was a trad climb, yet had a number of fixed wooden chocks in the crack (and also a number of chopped bolts ...!)

The view ... lovely, eh?

... if a little out of focus!
Jen coming up ...

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Venice (or, unexpected free parking)

Our ferry arrived in Venice early in the morning, almost 24 hours since leaving Igoumenitsa. We'd spent that time curled up in our (Camper Special Bonus!) cabin, playing Free Civ, snoozing and generally trying to avoid the fact we were trapped on a rather dull boat for an entire day.

We needed to stretch our legs and do something different -and Venice was right there, waiting to be explored.
Driving off the ferry, our first problem was parking - in a congested island city, famous now for its tourism and lack of streets, where do you put a van? Answer: just over the bridge off the island, in the public car parking, where the council has installed signs to say you must pay but hasn't yet got around to installing the machines to do so. And after five minutes on the bus, we were back in the canal zone with all the other tourists, cameras in hand.

We started by following the crowds to Piazza San Marco (of course), enjoying the canals, winding laneways and old buildings along the way. Once there, we ditched the tourist trail and spent most of the day just a little lost.

We quickly worked out that buying an espresso and drinking it at the bar (E1), before ducking upstairs to use the cafe's loos, is far better value than using a public toilet (E1.50), and as entrance to any one of the museums on Piazza San Marco gives you entrance to all the others, there's no point in waiting at the most popular Doge's Palace to get in ... better to check out the Correr first and waltz past the line to the Doge's fine lodgings once you have your ticket.
Peak hour: this was the start of a gondola-traffic-jam.
We thought about taking a gondola. We could be one of "those" couples, sitting romantically in the love seat being seranaded in Italian by someone wearing a straw hat and stripey shirt. But does that sound like us? Not really. Instead we took a break from walking around in an alley that ended in a canal, and we sat and watched an entire log jam of gondolas float by ... noticing that the only tourists enjoying themselves were the ones with a bottle of prosecco, that straw hats are out of fashion and that there's nothing romantic about being stuck on a small vessel with an accordian when the player only knows one song, we were pretty pleased with our decision to just walk around town.

What else? We bought take away pizza for lunch, eating it under one of the many small bridges and watching more boats of many different shapes and sizes go by. We found the residential area, looking dilapadated and perhaps a little empty, but providing a fascinating glimpse into how one does laundry here (how much falls of the lines and ends up in the water?). Although we'd be heading in the right direction, we never really knew where we were and often met with dead-ends ... but that was OK.

And in the evening, after dinner in a small courtyard restaurant, we joined the students for a plastic tumbler or three of "spritzer" - Campari, white wine and soda, on a hot evening, standing on yet another bridge over yet another canal.

All up, a pretty perfect day.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

... a home among the gum trees?

So here's Fred, parked under a eucalypt ...

... right near a sandy beach.

No, we're not back in Australia. We're at the local hangout for campers waiting to catch the ferry to Venice from Igoumenitsa. Not a bad spot, eh?

Sunday, 19 June 2011


Meteora was hot.

So, feeling very much like lazy tourists, we spent a large quantity of our time there by the campsite's swimming pool. From the side of the pool, you could admire the tall rock pillars with their precariously perched monasteries above you (and not even raise a sweat).

The chosen route: up this pillar on the left.
Not wanting to fork out for the comprehensive guidebooks to the area for only a day or so, we tracked down some other climbers for information. Two friendly Germans pointed us in the direction of a route called "Traumfiler", or something like that, that ran up the corner of a large pillar near our campsite. Well within our abilities, it seemed perfect for us the next day.

Jen has to be honest here - she doesn't like conglomerate rock, and particularly doesn't like conglomerate rock with very spaced bolts! So, swearing and sweating, she followed Mark's lead, very happy not to be on the sharp end and feeling not just like a lazy tourist, but like a bad climber as well.

Mark really enjoyed the route and had a great time.

We were both agreed that the view from the top was even better than the view from the pool. (Hopefully the pictures convey the stunning scenery!)

But as we were at risk of dehydration from perspiration, however, it was time to head back to those cool, blue waters ... 

Thursday, 16 June 2011


We arrived in Athens to the news of a general strike. This apparently meant that most of the main monuments would be closed (including the Acropolis). We headed into the city regardless, figuring it would still be more interesting than the campsite.

We got off at the metro station right near Parliament House, where all the protesters had gathered. There were lots of people there and it was busy, but most of them were standing around with a coffee and a cigarette having a chat! There were also all manner of banners and fliers being handed out, and also a small tent city set up by the die-hard protesters who have been there for months, but in general the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly. 

Nevertheless, we decided not to stick around.

And whilst the Acropolis was closed, the Ancient Agora was still open, there are many parks that surround the ancient downtown sites that are very pretty to walk through (and thankfully have lots of trees and shade - it's hot!) and the very new Acropolis Museum was also open - and that was really very interesting, worth seeing before going to the actual Acropolis the next day, and pleasantly air-conditioned, too.

On our way back much later in the afternoon, we ended up passing through the Parliament House station again ... and things were a little different. Exactly the same atmosphere amongst the protesters, with everyone holding a coffee and a cigarette, but there were a few bin fires, a few random olive trees planted in the road, and a strong stink in the air that burned your eyes, nose and throat. 

It had been a good decision not to stick around. 

However, we did like the chain of people passing bottles down a line to a fountain, where the bottles were filled, and then sent from the fountain to the fires - clearly the vast majority of people there didn't want trouble, and were happy to help clean up. 

And day two in Athens? Well the tent city was still in place and many of the protesters were still there, smoking and drinking coffee. And as the Acropolis and other sights were now open, we competed with the crowds to complete our sightseeing.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Leaving Kalymnos

We didn't really want to leave Kalymnos. But the weather was getting too warm for climbing, meaning earlier and earlier starts each morning to get onto the rock, and the cooler temperatures - not to mention unexplored peaks, valleys and routes! - in the Alps and Dolomites are calling. So, to say goodbye, we hired a scooter for the day and on two wheels, we discovered some more perfect beaches, visited a castle and checked out our favourite spots once again.

Perhaps we'll be back ...

Friday, 3 June 2011

Stuck on Kalymnos!

Well, the ferry we were meant to catch off Kalymnos left more than two weeks ago. We weren't on it.

What on earth were we thinking, that just under three weeks would be enough on Kalymnos?! Were we crazy?! Three weeks isn't enough - hey, several months might only just cut it. Time really has flown here; despite the fact we've been here now for over a month, there still seems to be so much to see and do (but interestingly enough, not much to blog about ... whoops!)

Evening on the balcony.

We've enjoyed a great week with family, who came all the way over here to include us in the celebrations of a very special birthday. We've done so many amazing climbs we've had to start marking our guidebook so that we can remember them all. We've hung out on a variety of beaches, swimming and lounging in the sun, and noticing the water getting progressively warmer (and the sun progressively stronger!). We have practically been adopted by our landlady, know the supermarket back-to-front and sussed out where to buy the best bread (our local minimarket! strange but true) and the best fresh meat (Pothia's largest butcher makes amazing sausages), but we're still not sick of eating the local waxed fetta cheese. Oh, and did we mention the fresh fish ...!?!

So ... we changed our tickets to a later date. All good things must come to an end but thankfully, that end is not yet nigh.