As I pointed out in my previous missive from Zakynthos, the weather for the Thursday of our Greek adventure wasn’t going to be anything to write home about (I’ve never let that stop me before) and so it turned out. The morning was dull and the forecast was for heavy thunderstorms. We’d made a cunning plan though, there is a Land Train (Trainaki) that runs trips up into the hills above Alykes and I’d taken the precaution of booking a couple of seats. The office was just down from our digs but when we arrived the lady behind the desk wasn’t too optimistic about either the numbers for the trip or the weather. As departure time approached several more people arrived on spec, due to the beaches being off limits. The guide for the tour explained that, given the weather, she was going to allow the people travelling to make the decision as to whether or not the trip should go ahead. The driver wasn’t bothered and we all said we’d give it a go, so off we went.
The first part of the trip, circumnavigating the salt flats before heading up the road past Alykes Holiday Village, The Iris Bar and Koukounari Restaurant was uneventful, apart from one thing. The flats attract lots of water fowl in the winter, but they hadn’t arrived at the time we were there. There are hotels ranged around them and a group of people were milling around, obviously at a loss for something to do. They waved the train down, had a quick chat with the guide and joined us. The group had doubled in size, which, as it turned out, wasn’t a bad thing. It wasn’t long before we were in a completely rural setting. I’d guess the villages above the resorts haven’t changed a great deal in many a year. Most of the houses have a small vegetable garden and many of them have vines growing almost up to the door. There are olive trees everywhere, quince and lemon are also in abundance. We could see the storm approaching and the curtains were rolled down on the carriage sides as a what turned out to be welcome precaution.
We drove along the base of Kakia Rahi mountain and through the village of Katastari, which is the most populated settlement on the island after Zante Town. By now the thunder was rumbling all around us and the rain was imminent. I did manage to get a picture of the church, though it would have been nice to have been able to stop and take my time over it. I’m guessing the views back down the hill are spectacular, but the curtain sides and the deepening greyness weren’t conducive to finding out.
The ultimate destination of the trip is the village of Pigadakia to visit the wonderfully eclectic Folk Museum, have a look around the church of Saint Panteimona and finish up at a Taverna. The museum is one of those places that you just know is the life’s work of someone who is, to say the least, a little eccentric. An old stone barn, filled to the brim with a veritable cornucopia of things, old and more modern, that chart the lives and times of the people of the island. As we entered the barn the rain hit us with all the force of a monsoon, doors and windows blew open and the lights gave up for a minute or two. The short walk to the church was off the itinerary, as the path was slippery and running with water.
I took a number of photographs both inside the main barn and in the outbuildings. In one of the outer “sheds” is a flour mill, which although now no longer used for the purpose was originally donkey powered, nobody knows how old it is. To the rear of the buildings, partially covered by a bramble thicket, is a stable reputed to be over 1,000 years old. Nothing is laid out in any order, which makes for a lot of oohing and aahing, there are weapons, uniforms, paintings, advertisements and all sorts of other ephemera. Not to be missed, if you like that kind of thing.
I could have chosen any number of objects as my favourite “exhibit” but the small display of ancient stone olive oil jars seemed to epitomise the island for me.
Time was getting on by now and the rain had relented a little so we took the opportunity to return to the train for the short uphill drive to the Kakia Rahi Taverna which is owned by Spiros, the very eccentric who put the museum collection together and who, as it turns out, is a host in what most people might consider the traditional Greek mould. The Taverna itself is as chaotic as the museum, there is “stuff” everywhere and Spiros obviously delights in it.
As we entered we were greeted with a glass jug of Village wine each. Village wine is not to be confused with the house wine of the restaurants in the resorts, this is the drink of the villagers, it’s a bit syrupy and off dry (the grapes that aren’t used to make wine are sun dried and exported to mainland Greece as sultanas, said to be of the highest quality) and is offered for sale, by Spiros, in unlabelled plastic bottles. The rain had returned with a vengeance and the electric tripped but the staff carried on circulating with more wine and taking orders for a simple Greek lunch of bread with oil, salad, Tiropita (cheese pies made with filo) and chips. We’d been told that after the first jug or two the wine would need to be paid for, but it just kept coming.
After a little while the sun broke through and the afternoon began to take a bizarre but not unpleasant turn. Spiros turned out the lights and, to the fascination and amazement of the gathered company, proceeded to set fire to the floor of his restaurant and a couple of the columns that hold up the roof. He drew patterns on the floor, using an improvised kerosene flame thrower, while at the same time hurling plates towards the roof and laughing uproariously as they shattered on the ground. Each plates landing was greeted with a loud cry of “Yamas” , which roughly translates to “Good Health”. Once this little show was over and Spiros had exhausted his daily plate ration, he toured the tables filling everyone’s glass with more wine. A hand over the glass as a barrier didn’t work, several people got wet fingers. As we left for the return trip I bought a plastic bottle of both red & white for 3 Euros each. Spiros, with a huge grin on his face, presented me with a third bottle to take away and insisted that I drain one last glass with him. Apparently this isn’t unusual behaviour on a wet Thursday in the hills of Zakynthos, the dishwasher gets an easy day though. By the time we arrived back in Alykes the day was getting on. We’d eaten our fill and had wine aplenty so we sat out on the terrace for a couple of hours and drank some of the wine before eating a simple meal, having one last one for the road and retiring for the night. A day that will live long in the memory.
© Colin Cross 2019
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file