2300 Dear diary, we made it… I am writing this at midnight as we get ready for bed. It’s been the most memorable day of the trip for me so far. Now, back to the beginning…
0800 sunny, some scattered clouds, ~20 C. Morning clean up then we made our own breakfast; cereal, milk, banana, yogurt and honey. Toasted the bread in a frying pan. Coffee pot that we got from Mary last night works. Ate on the balcony with a view of the Aegean Sea. Hand washed laundry until 1000. We are at 41 deg.N here at Irae. Crete was between 34 and 35 deg.N. So in Irae we are about 480 miles south of home in Nanaimo, and Crete is another 400 miles further south.
1030 Off to Olympia, Richard driving. Irae to Nafplio then around the bay, bypassing Argos, then across the mountains to Tripoli. Lot’s of hairpin turns on the climb up the mountain, major stress for Kathy. From Tripoli we took the wrong road out of town but it proved very pleasant. We saw that the leaves on the trees are changing to fall colours. We rejoined the main highway at Butivo, heading west for Olympia. The weather has deteriorated to cloudy, threatening skies, 20 C. The map calls this a main highway no. 74 and for a while it looks like it. It is a red route on the map which means a major road, while those that are shown in white are supposedly smaller roads. When hwy 74 hits the mountains and mountain towns, it turns into a one way road with 2 way traffic in the towns and for some bridges. I was surprised in one town that we got through with side view mirrors and all 4 corners of the vehicle intact. See the video. Don’t know how you can call it a highway.
After we came down to lower levels and promised Kathy that we wouldn’t take her back on that road – she was quite serious about that – we thought we were in the clear until the rain hit. Just before Olympia it became torrential – zero visibility except when we drove through tunnels. This also made sign reading difficult, and that’s not easy under the best of conditions. We arrived in the town of Olympia and found a gas station and washroom just in time. Then we found a restaurant. It was still pouring so we decided to eat lunch and see if the rain would slow down. I had taramosalata – fish roe salad, and soutzoukakia spiced meat balls. Deb had chicken in orange sauce. I had my first Greek coffee, it was very good. By the time we finished our meal at 1530 the rain had stopped. We drove up to the Olympia archeological site, 6E, no reduced rate for a rain day and late entry. In we go. Rain drips falling off the trees. The site is quite large. Deb and I missed the Olympia flame – hah! but we saw all of the rest of it including the original Olympic stadium. We looked around for about 2 hours then back to the car.
We had talked to the gas station attendant – an older man, the younger waiter in the restaurant and the old guy in the ticket booth near the archeological site, getting advice on a different route to go back to Irae Mare. 1800 the rain returns. They young guy said to go by way of Lala north of Olympia (white road through the mountains on the map which isn’t very promising) up to highway 33, a red route which he said was much straighter than the one we had followed to get to Olympia. The old guys said that highway 33 was similar to hwy 74 and that the southern return route was much better. Also I was concerned for the first 42 km. which is Lala north to the highway, and also concerned about even finding the right road to Lala. We decided to head south. My turn to drive. Out of the town of Olympia we took a 13 km white road shortcut to the coastal highway. Even that proved confusing as there were no signs identifying the village which was our marker for the turn we had to take to get to the coastal highway. We never found that village. I stopped and asked directions at a florist’s shop.
1845 By now it was dusk and the rain had returned in earnest. But the coastal road was very good. At times we were able to drive at 110 kph!. Then at Kalo Nero (also not signed) we made our turn east into the mountains. 1930 hard rain, 13C in the mountains. The 33 km. stretch east was also a good road. But it was raining hard and there was occasional lightning. At one point I stopped the car on the side of the road as it was too difficult to see until the cloudburst moved on. All in all, the leg east was good road, only with visibility problems. Then a short somewhat confusing set of turns and we entered onto the south end of E65 to head north – this is the new highway. What a great, well lit highway for as long as it lasted! 1200 m tunnel! Yes, it is still under construction, so we finally came to a point where we had to turn off. More confusion in the dark and the rain and off ramp construction zone. We saw a sign and found a road heading to Tripoli, likely old hwy 7. It was in fairly good shape but we were behind traffic that was just crawling along. One last piece of confusion was some construction just before Tripoli that redirected us and brought us into town on a minor street, narrow and we had to turn off before long as we were facing a one way street with traffic against us. 2130, rain has lightened up somewhat. So we were detoured into the backside of Tripoli and promptly became lost. We finally stopped and asked directions of one of the sidewalk stall operators – what he was doing still open at this time on a Sunday night is beyond me. He said to go east to the school, make a left, 3 stop signs then right. Easy, right? So, what does a school look like in the dark? We missed the sign in the intersection that pointed to Agora. Kathy got out, walked back, checked it, soaked her feet and got us going in the right direction. The 3 stop signs actually referred to 3 traffic lights. Finally found the turn and recognized the road from the morning, and turned east.
The rain had lightened up and the drive back over the mountains was uneventful although the hairpin turns are interesting at night. I drove down to the coast as far as the T intersection turn towards Nafplio, then asked Richard to take over as my eyes were shot. 2145 As we entered Nafplio, the rain returned. We turned onto the Epidaurus road, discussed the options of the Deprano Rd. vs the shortcut from the Epidaurus road, and chose the latter. 2200 The rain had returned with a vengeance. A truck going in the opposite direction threw up a huge bow wave of water that erased all visibility for several seconds. The 5 min. drive from the traffic circle to the turn off took at least 10 min. We found the turn off and headed south. Within 2 km. we were driving through puddles that stretched across the entire road. Then we got to a point where red orange mud was coming in from both sides of the road. Rick saw 2 in. rocks rolling along in the run off.
We were no where near the lowest part of the road estimated to be another 8 km. further, and that’s a point where the road dips to allow stormwater to cross over the top of it. We were already in 2 in. of flowing mud. Richard decided to turn back and we heartily agreed. So back up to the Epidaurus road and turned west to get back to the traffic circle. Still torrential rain and a long time to get back. From the circle to the Deprano turn off, many large pools of water that threatened to soak the engine. Passed through Deprano, Vivaro and Kantia without incident although the pools of standing water remained a concern. Turn off to Irae beach, then thankful to finally see the entrance to our hotel. 2300.
A great relief. Unloaded the car at the front door and Richard went to park it. Torrential rain continues. Dumped our gear in the room and then down to the bar for beers for the guys and Baileys for the gals. Back to the room at midnight, turned in at 0045. Your not so basic 12.5 hr. journey! Epic – this was our Odyssey.
We spent a lot of time decompressing in the hotel bar after our return. We shared our impressions, talked about highlights, and talked about the shortcut road in the rain.
Impressions: KE water going down, driving in the rain, the high vista we saw in the morning; RE pissing down rain, no side lines, no centre line, no visibility just before the tunnels near Olympia; DM when we couldn’t see and JM stopped the car; KE wasn’t sure she was going to make it to the bathroom in Olympia; RE when the truck went by on the Epidaurus road and the wave wipe out our visibility;
Highlights: JM when I turned over the car to Richard at the Nafplio turn off coming back; RE things taste better if you’re not sure you’re getting back, seeing the Olympia flame is lit before it goes off to other places; KE the Olympic site was anticlimactic after the drive and concern for the return drive. The 2 drives, there was no comparison, they were both awful, backseat driving was really tough. KE when we stopped on the mountain road in the morning and we saw Nafplio – the fortress on the island across the water. RE when we saw the big castle as we drove back into Nafplio (illuminated at night, before the rain really got going again). DM/KE Olympia is a massive site and there is more to be uncovered. JM the Irae Mare beach resort when we finally got back was a personal highlight. KE the windmills were impressive, both daytime and nightime. RE when JM opened the sun roof and the water started raining on his head. KE getting lost in Tripoli at night wasn’t nice. RE not nice at all, a “low light”. KE the washroom at the gas station had a push up flush system. KE lightning on the road coming back. RE/DM/KE lunch was good, reasonable price, wine was 1E.
About the shortcut road in the rain: KE I couldn’t believe it. RE I wasn’t going to jeopardize, carrying precious cargo (us), there were 2 in. rocks getting washed down the road. JM orange brown mud right across the road, the road was serving as a drainage channel, we were in 2 in. water throwing up fantails on each side and we were nowhere near the low point on the road. If we went further, we might have flooded the car. RE if you get down there you might not be able to back out.