A drive in a rural setting with only a vague itinerary can be one of life's great pleasures.There are guidebooks and websites, of course, but sometimes it is better to find things out...or not...for oneself. In Greece recently, there was a whole peninsula to explore east of the port of Volos, with mountains and seascapes, woods and quiet dilapidated villages.
On curving frequently dog-legging roads.
When going upward, the vista through the windscreen is grey tarmac and autumn hues topped with hazy but blue skies. On the descents, we see ancient orchards, neglected sundried grapes on twisted vines and a steely blue sea. The other beauty of it is that being October, we are virtually the only vehicle on the roads. Tourist season is over and it seems that yes, on this particular day, I do own the road…as much as one can own the road driving a tiny Fiat Panda.
This part of Greece – the north of the Pelion Peninsula – feels remote and antiquated. From my romantic foreigner’s perspective, I see the ramshackle stone cottages and I want to live in them. I see the large scarved women in black, ambling up the roadsides, climbing rotting fences and I want to befriend them…and steal their recipes. A slightly dazed and bedraggled sheep stares dumbly and I wonder if I would keep him as a pet or kill him and freeze him for winter.
The road takes us on to villages where cobbled churchyards blow cool with leaves. The corner of one churchyard in the village of Zagora adjoins a small collection of family run restaurants which seem open but might involve a degree of self-service or at least reconnaissance within to find the proprietor. Beer and olives are managed. Anything more substantial will require someone fetching yaya from across a nearby field.
We have supplies from a Volos delicatessen so we depart with directions for the village bakery and instructions to hurry before it closes for the afternoon. A crusty loaf is procured to sandwich salty feta, chunks of sausage, cucumber and tomato hacked with a pocket-knife and our bottomless bag of olives that have travelled with us all the way from Athens. We sit in a bus shelter for which the bus surely only stops once every few days at this time of year.
All around us are the signs of early afternoon lethargy, barely a person in sight. Shops and workshops are shut. Cars are parked slipshod, their drivers certain that no traffic will be coming through. A crate of quinces is left unguarded in front of the fruit shop. One of the black clothed widows is pulling a shutter shut.
The time is right.
For a spot of fruit picking. This peninsula is Greece's apple orchard. During our aimless cavorting, apples have been everywhere: stacked up in crates waiting for pick-up, in large kilo bags for sale (money in the honesty box, please) by the side of the road, rotting in piles under trees, even rolling down the area's grassy slopes.
And, indeed, in the trees. Trees with ladders leaning up against them, crazed apple farmer with a shot-gun not far away.