The best thing about travelling is getting lost, and it seems Greece excels at giving you a helping hand with this…maps are more like rough sketches, designed to confuse even the most hardy Orienteer. Forget your compass, just follow your nose, and it’s sure to bring you upon delightful things that you would have missed if that road map had actually been accurate! Half the roads listed on it are different to what they look, and many are just not even on there. You find 3 roads where there was meant to be one, and none where there was meant to be a junction. Oh, and road markings to signify junctions or right of way? Forget it…but it all adds to the fun. If you don’t worry about taking driving or walking too seriously, it’s almost hilarious how wrong you can go if you actually try to follow their map system properly.
This is also a really good way of escaping the usual annoying, obnoxious, loud tourists who go everywhere on organised tours by coach because they are too lazy to sort anything out for themselves and expect to be pampered to by everyone – including other tourists. Usually the driver knows where he is going and doesn’t need maps which get you lost, because he does it every single day, week, month – for the same type of people every time – so he perhaps drives with his eyes shut and an I-pod stuck in his ears trying to block them out as much as humanly possible. Well, we would if we had to do it!
Note for other travellers to Kefalonia who want to escape the crowds – check out Argostoli harbour (or the other main ports) in the morning BEFORE you go to any attraction like the Drogorati caves – if there is a cruise ship in dock, you don’t stand a hope in hell of getting any peace at major attractions. They organise buses from the ships to do day trips to all the main places, and those days should be avoided if you want to actually savour anything.
We love old buildings – ruins, castles, churches, run-down houses, monasteries – actually, pretty much any building which is interesting in some way. I know that this really doesn’t interest a lot of people but for us, we love the little quirks of old buildings, and the inventiveness of new ones. So, on our lost wanderings, we love finding hidden gems to explore. Sometimes you have no idea if you can freely look around, because you don’t know if its a private house or a public building. Usually, we have a good scout about to see if we can find anyone to ask, and if not, we will have a little peek.
On the island we found quite a few ruins hidden in undergrowth, of buildings decimated by the 1953 earthquake which sent many people seeking new lives elsewhere. Other times we found complete houses, just shut up and decaying. What we seemed to find in the strangest or remotest of places were many churches and chapels.
Some are just ruins, being overrun by nature reclaiming the land that was once taken over by religion.
What surprised us the most was that even though the churches have been left to fall down and decay, some of the cemeteries alongside were still recently used for burials, with elaborate head stones, enclosures, or railings marking the plots. The church above is at Kastro, just below where the castle of Agios Georgios is situated on the top of a hill.
Bell towers were still intact, even though the rest of the building was just a shell.
Graves still had fresh flowers laid on them, despite the year of death being in the 1800’s; shrines still had offerings and lit candles. Who are the mysterious people who bring these offerings out to the middle of nowhere to honour the dead?
This lovely ruin pictured above, found just above the town of Lassi, had the most peaceful energy and the only entrance to it that was accessible was found by ducking under a large tree at the side. I am so glad I scrabbled under, because inside there were still decaying wooden pews, ornate carving on what looked to be the remains of a covered throne-type chair, the stone altar, marble altar steps, minute remains of paintings on the walls, the old priests door (as pictured further above, next to the ruin of the other building next door – possibly the Priest’s home?)
The wood was so brittle and whitened by the sun, but this just made it more beautiful. So few people would find this place hidden away in trees and undergrowth, and it feels so gentle here. Pomegranates still grow in abundance here within the grounds, as do pink flowering cactuses; the smell of fresh mint fragrances the air as you walk around. There is even a covered well still here.
We found the one above as we wandered on an unlisted track across the spine of the hill above Argostoli, after visiting the Italian war memorials. Shortly further round, we also found this one…
Sadly both of these small ones were locked so we couldn’t see inside. As we walked we saw buzzards flying and calling overhead – 5 of them, together – my camera is not powerful enough to zoom in closely and capture their beauty mid-air. Listening to their cries in the middle of quiet is haunting and wonderful though and it doesn’t stop me trying to get that shot up closer every time. It also always lifts my heart to hear them, when so much wildlife on our planet is nearing extinction.
We found out that the track comes out on the road next to Oscars Taverna, where you will find the most delicious food and friendly staff. Definitely a place to visit for the sunset across the sea, and the free traditional Greek dance shows on some evenings. Oscars is on the beach road from Lassi to Argostoli. The waiter tried to rent us a studio too when he knew we were camping, as huge storms were headed in once again. It was nice that he wasn’t typically pushy, but seemed genuinely concerned that we would suffer in the tent due to the high winds, heavy rain, and thunder and lightning that was due that evening! (We had already survived one of these unscathed – apart from the tree branch that came down on the pitch next to us – so we weren’t too worried!)
Later the same day, walking our lunch off, we also found the Church of Agios Gerasimos in Lassi. The church was built in front of a small cave where Agios Gerasimos lived in solitude for several years. This isn’t hard to find as it is signposted from the main road.
The inside is ornate, as are most Greek churches/chapels…
The stairs on the right, leading up to the little door, take you into the shrine of the cave where he lived. The stone is smooth where he conducted his life in the cave, and where people worship since. It has a very gentle feel to it, and is incredibly peaceful. If there are no other tourists around, sitting in here alone – away from the world for a while – would be a pleasure you can’t miss. Contemplate your navel, or life…your choice.
At the very least you can light a candle here, for a small donation in the box behind the main church door, or leave an offering as many others do somewhere on the shelves, nooks and crannies in the cave.
If you like castles, visit Assos. A quaint little coastal village with many restaurants in the little harbour area and 2 very small popular beaches. It seems to cater for the pretentious snobs who think this is the place to see and be seen, but don’t let this put you off from taking a wander up the winding walkway to the castle ruins complex.
On the way up, you will find some stone steps leading down through the trees to the right, to a little cove where there you will find a little gem of a cave and possibly a quiet place to sunbathe if nobody has got there first.
Also, half way up, is a little chapel. We wondered what was going on when we saw a woman with a guitar trudging upwards, but it transpired that she and a gentleman were the musical duo for a wedding about to take place here! I cannot think of a more perfect setting – it was just before sunset too. Magical…
After the ceremony…
Sometimes, you happen across the unexpected like a wedding at a little chapel near a ruined castle. These are the things which make travelling all the more interesting…
Following the noise resounding through the trees in the castle ruins, we headed down towards the middle of the island that the castle sits on, to find 2 goats fighting for dominance. They were pretty exhausted by the time we got there but they carried on fighting for a while as we crept closer…
They seemed to come to a truce for the time being, with the tan one having the slight lead in the battle by the end. It seems it was too hot for anything decisive and they both wandered off giving sideways glances to one another whilst puffing tiredly, to join the rest of the herd grazing.
It was time for us too to head back to our little abode and join the rest of the human herd grazing! We leave you with the view of Assos harbour from the castle walls…