Day 236 Xanthi, Thrace to Sithonian Peninsula, Macedonia, Greece.

Last night I had an interesting experience in the washrooms. Despite being in a lovely situation by the beach, the bathroom facilities in our campsite were a tad dated. The ladies’ wash block had four squat toilets (French style), and showers with malfunctioning heads. Howard reported that the wash block that he was using (assumed to be the men’s, but with no sign to say so), had three squat toilets, and one sit down toilet, albeit without a lock. He suggested I try his facility.

So last thing before settling down for the night, I venture along to the wash blocks with Howard. No-one else is around, so I decide to join Howard. All is going well. I use the only sit down toilet on site, and then go across to the sinks to wash my hands. What Howard had failed to inform me, was this his wash block had a resident population of eight little green frogs! They gave me the fright of my life, as one hopped to of the washbasin. The joys of camping!

This morning we set off eastwards along the Aegean coastline. First stop was the town of Kavala, with a busy port and ancient Ottoman aqueduct. We were only planning on stopping for a late coffee, but the pretty harbour where we found ourselves looked so appealing, that we sat down on the restaurant terrace and ordered a light lunch. Howard went for Greek salad, which seemed the appropriate thing to eat, listening to the local music that was being played. Thankfully, we had no more renditions of Greek dancing, although I’m sure it is only a matter of time!

I must say, that so far, there is no evidence of the harsh austerity measures that we had been hearing about back home. Greece is up and running, and open for business. Everywhere appears clean, the roads are fine, and above all, there seems to be a sense of civic pride about the place. The people have been universally friendly and welcoming. Clearly, as a country, they have been through a difficult period, but as a visitor, it seems no different from the Greece we recall all those years ago.

Continuing on, we couldn’t help but notice lots of little road-side shrines, many in the form of model churches, beautifully painted. I was intrigued as to what they were, and looked it up. They are called Kandylakia, and are a religious custom that has been going for generations. When someone dies, or indeed is saved, the family will often erect a shrine. But not only that, sometimes they are sited, for example, in olive groves, as a kind of thanksgiving for the harvest, or at the top of mountainsides, as a gesture of thankfulness. Many contain religious pictures or artefacts. I stopped to photograph one, and inside was a small jar of honey, perhaps as a gift for a productive yield – I don’t really know?

As we carried on eastwards, we are now very much back in the land of olive groves, all beautifully kept and tended. We headed towards the Halkidiki Peninsula, with it’s three tendrils extending down into the Aegean. We are staying the middle of the three, the Sithonian Peninsula. I was astonished to discover that the most Easterly of the peninsulas, Athos Peninsula, is owned largely by the Mount Athos Monastic community, in existence for over a thousand years. It is accessed by boat, but wait for this – only males are allowed to visit, and only then by booking ahead about six months in advance. Athos contains twenty working monasteries, and is formally Greek, although ecclesiastically it is under the Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople (Istanbul). It is a World Heritage site, and much of it is a nature reserve. However, it has a border, and no women are allowed to enter – in the 21st century!! To say I am a little peeved, is an understatement!

Our first sight of the Sithonian Peninsular is positive. The coastline is mainly rocky, but there are beautiful little sandy coves, with the most stunningly turquoise waters. Our campsite seems fine. No frogs, so far!

We walked down to the shoreline, and sat on the rocks to watch the sunset, Howard with a beer in hand. It has been a little cooler today, and there is a slight sea breeze on our pitch. Tomorrow, we may head a little further down the peninsula – it depends which way the wind is blowing.

For the first time since Croatia, it feels like we are actually on holiday here, rather than just continually travelling. So we may stay longer – but only if we can tolerate the temperatures!

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