Driving to Gatwick, a strange thing..... at the top of Detling Hill, just by the garage, an abandoned car slewed across the fast lane, almost invisible in the dawn. It takes an agonisingly long time to explain to the 999 police what the situation is. He wants to know my address, where I am, my name... I say, we are in another car, have just driven past this dangerous situation, are heading to the airport.... At the bottom of the hill, down by the M20, there is thick mist. If that was the same at the top, no doubt there would be a huge pile-up as the abandoned car would be invisible, sideways on and silver coloured.
The new checkin at Gatwick is very good, with the added piquancy of a policeman carrying an automatic rifle, watching you as you come through. The experience of 'heaven' (the departure lounge) is also pleasant if you know what you want... in our case, straight to Dixons to buy a camera, and to Boots to get sandwiches for the flight. All very smooth. Extra pleasure for me as I found a nice pair of shorts in Next reduced from 22 to 8 (and I can tell you, finding anything which fits is remarkable, let alone anything I'd want to walk around in).
However, the nasty sneaky management of the flight once you get to the departure gate is another matter. We knew, we knew, that the Greek air traffic controllers were or had been on strike but on the other hand we were told that this flight was on time, no troubles. In fact, through a series of slippery half-truths and disappointing admissions, we graually discovered there was 'no crew', and then 'no captain', and then 'no slot for us to leave in'. We had to wait in the little departure hall for three hours, lulled into patience by a series of announcements that the delay would be just a little while more, without easy access to lavs or refreshments, without enough seats, and without knowing how long it was going to go on. Another passenger told me this was deliberate, so that Squeezy didn't have to give us all a free coffee and in fact when we got on the plane, a peeved apology from the flight crew confirmed this... the nancy voice said they too had been ready to leave on time at 9.30. So we had been told a pack of lies. I noticed that all through this rather small inconvenience, the passengers were mildly united in annoyance or groans as we heard each successive apology, but when it finally came to boarding, there was no unity and just a mad rush for the gate. Those on crutches or with children or in a wheelchair were barely given space, and some were given none. Poorly done.
I should also say, the Pret sushi and sandwiches etc do look much nicer than the Boots ones, but you have to go upstairs to food heaven to get them. On the other hand, the Pret Upper Class Superior Hot Bacon Baguette or whatever they call it doesn't seem to have bacon in it, but some sort of ham, which is a shame as good bacon is so gorgeous.
Flight fine. Alps stupendous. Coastlines always interesting to look down on. Squeezy leg room – gah!
On the plane we get the new camera going... it has a small amount of battery power left. I am about to compare it with the old Fuji camera, but discover that that's gone completely dead. I thought it was fine when we left home, but it seems to 'know' we have moved on to another one, and decided to die. Wierd. Maybe only the battery is flat. Can't tell. It looks very grubby and bashed compared to new Mr Nikon.
Warm air on arrival. Car pick-up v exciting.... we queued for a short time behind one other person, and then got our keys. The car (booked as a Corsa) was in fact a new BMW 116, and sparkling white. Very glam. As we leave, the man who had been in the queue in front of us drives up and asks if we are ok. I hear a Welsh accent and ask if he is from Swansea. Yes! I say, my dad was from Swansea, from Pontardawe. He says, that is a very sad place now (4 coal miners recently died there, of course, in an underground flood). He asks where we're going and when we say we were heading to Corinth he says that's where he's going. 'Do you know how to get out of here?' he says kindly. In fact we follow him a long way along the motorway, a friendly pilot along a road which was a nightmare last (and first) time I drove along it, in a huge thunderstorm, during a power cut, during road works, during rush hour, and with one of my three passengers a ghastly woman who did nothing but complain, scream, back-seat-drive and generally make me want to kill her.
On that occasion I had bought a satnav (which is called a Destinator). It had taken me through the Peloponnese to Portoheli without any problems and so we were relying on it for this journey too. However, in the rush and anxiety to get to the west of Athens before nightfall, we don't have time to sit and fiddle with it, so all I can get it do is give us a map-like overview of our journey. I can't blame it for not knowing about the new motorway, I suppose, but it is very irritating to see it suggesting we do a series of tiny left-and-right turns, to get to some unknown destination about quarter of a mile away. My thoughts turn to a short story I have been (not) writing, about how a solar flare wipes out all computers on earth, and in the space of three hours reduces us to the stone age again.
Luckily the road signage for the most part is excellent, Korinthos is easy to follow and we sweep along, with a dazzling appearance of the huge oil refinery sparkling and shining like a celestial city as night falls. Andrew drily reminds me I like the appearance of le Grand Synth in Belgium too, one of Europe's ecological hell-holes I suppose, but always exciting to look at with its strange buildings and towers, its retorts and flares and gantries, and plumes of vile-coloured smoke and steam. This oil refinery and depot is very similar, huge and filled with domes and cylinders and stacks, everything adorned with safety lights like jewellery. The sun had set thirty minutes before so the light was soft and pearly, with dusk draping over all the land, and this bejewelled, sparkling, highly-designed palace sitting there like a Hollywood moment... I know, I know..... it's pollution and despoilation, etc. but you know, while we were in the horrible departure gate at Gatwick I saw that almost everything I could see had come from the petrochemical industry... the panelling, lighting, seating, flooring, signage, security gadgets, and of course most of what we were all wearing. So, these oil places are the sources of so many things in our lives and we barely notice it. I liked seeing it.
Getting from the simplicity of the motorway to our taverna was not easy... Our hosts in the Mani had found a room for us in Ancient Corinth, and this is where the aberrant behaviour of the Destinator (or my management of it) was slightly alarming. I could see on a map where Ancient Corinth was but not how to get there, and now it was dark. Road signs off the motorway are less reliable than on it.
But, clever us, and thank you Gods of Fortune, we navigate our way around the sprawl of modern Corinth and find the older city. Marinos seems to be a taverna in a brightly-lit tourist street, but the owner says we are at the wrong Marinos – we need his cousin's place a short way away. That turns out to be a large rambling house in a suburban hilly street, and a girl takes us to our room on the first floor. How lovely. How safe. 50 euros a night including breakfast. We haul the cases up, read the notice saying not to put toilet paper in the toilet, go down and eat.
The meal is stupendous – soup with toast, then a spread of: feta cheese, minutely chopped fresh salad, stuffed peppers, chick-pea fritters, spinach and cheese rolls, yoghurt with cucumber, and a wonderful languid ratatouille sort of summer-vegetable stew. I drink some red wine, tasting like fig juice... fantastic. I leave half the little carafe, I am too tired to drink more. The owner brings pudding – ice-cream on top of a sponge cake soused in honey. Andrew is happy (ice cream = holiday), but I give my pudding to the little boy who comes to help serve it. I am filled to the brim.
We go for a walk round Ancient Corinth, see the massive archaeological sites laid out, wander past the tourist centre again, where all the cafes have big TV screens showing the same football match, the sound echoing round and round with short delays between all the different cafes. It's all peaceful. We pass kiosks which appear to be totally unsecurable, full of stuff (cards, sweets, teddies, etc). Andrew says they make them safe at night by winding a bit of string round them.
Corinth, the ancient Corinth, was a powerful city, fighting Athens and Sparta, joining in the war against the Persians, finally overtaken by Athens in the naval game, sacked by the Romans and rebuilt many times over the centuries. Its citadel was used from the earliest times through the middle ages, with Crusaders and Turks and who else making gateways and defences. After fire and earthquake it disappeared, to be discovered and explored in the nineteenth century by German and subsequently mostly American archaeologists.
Today after breakfast we will go to the top of this remarkable mountain to view the land. We had a good night's sleep and the morning looks a bit misty but warm. Lorries are growling past outside. We will probably get down to the Mani by tonight, unless we stop along the way to explore other treasures.
I feel pleased to have been able to get this written on the first morning. I do not know how easy it will be to get to the internet during this adventure, so I am reverting to the old pattern of writing the blog and putting it onto a flashstick in hopes of finding an internet cafe somewhere along the route.