NB These notes are intended to satisfy a number of audiences: casual viewers, and motorhomers considering visiting this lovely country. For this reason I have added information likely to be of interest to motorhomers only.
"MSF" = "Miles So Far"
A lovely late summer day. Left home at 10 ish, and took the standard route to Dover for our 15.50 Sea France crossing. Sea flat calm. We found ourselves the last off the ferry, preceded by about a million lorries, and the port was deserted when we went through. Half an hour later we were at our usual aire de camping car (ADC) at Gravelines, which was crowded. If this continues we'll have to find somewhere else in future!
Fri 3rd September
A beautiful morning, and time for an early morning walk into Gravelines, to buy a baguette. We think Gravelines is a lovely unspoilt little walled town.
Then on the road again, heading for Karlsruhe. Sally tried to take us via Brussels, but we ignored her and took our usual route through Charleroi and Luxembourg. You can tell when you meet the France/Belgium border because potholes suddenly appear in front of you! Luxembourg is good because diesel is less than a € a litre, about 80p. Sally also tried to take us on the A6 in Germany. Ignoring that and taking non motorway saved us 40 miles. Near Karlsruhe we asked Sally to find us an ADC nearby, and she took us to Pforzheim. A long drive today – 400 miles – I felt I had earned my bottle of ale!
Sat 4th September
Not so far today, but more a battle. Took a road we often use, past Stuttgart, Ulm, Kempten, over the Fernpass to Innsbruck. However, 10 miles from the Austrian border the traffic became nose to tail, much 2nd gear work, and this continued across most of Austria. Eventually, about 30 miles from Innsbruck (i.e. nearly in Italy!) we took a different route from the bulk of the trffic and driving became more of a pleasure. We had expected to get well into Italy, but decided instead to return to the campsite at Neustift, in the Stubitai valley. This is halfway between Innsbruck and the Brenner Pass. We came this way in 2009 on our way back from Croatia and Bosnia, and made the mistake of using the motorway on the Austrian side of the pass. This not only cost €8, we had to queue for half an hour to pay. This time we managed to find our way onto the old road.
The site has wifi, €2 an hour or €6 for 24 hours. The showers are only just luke warm.
Sun 5th September
Another moderately early start, to head for Venice. We are also keen to top up with LPG, as it is difficult to find in Greece. Took the old road over the Brenner pass, and absolute doddle as passes go. Eventually we joined the autostrada, as although it was 50 miles longer than the direct route, according to Sally it was 2 hours quicker, also, I reckoned we would be more likely to find LPG on the motorway, which we did. Near Verona we were flagged down by a German, who pointed out we had a very soft front left tyre. Indeed it was. In fact the symptoms were identical to those we had on the rear whilst returning from Turkey – a minute crack in the wheel. Since then we have invested in a professional 12 volt inflater, which inflated the tyre in no time, and we were on our way. Better not to change a wheel beside the motorway unless you have to.
When we were less than 10 miles from Venice we came across a new autostrada that Sally didn't know about, and took a wrong turning. That added half an hour to the journey! But in Venice we found the ADC with no problem – SERIOUSLY expensive. 24 hours cost €37! But it is on the island, and the city is within easy access. And there is electricity. And the ferry terminal is only ½ mile away.
It was already 3.30 when we set off to walk into Venice – at those prices you don't waste an instant! We soon came across the “Venice People Mover”. This is a brand new overhead rail system to take you from the car park into the edge of Venice, in Pizza Roma – the last place accessible by wheeled vehicles. The VPM is effectively a cable driven funicular railway, running horizontally. Completely automatic, frequent trains, and not expensive.
Venice itself was just like the pictures of it. (Surprise!) and I took lots more just the same as everybody else's! We reached the Grand Canal to discover it was the annual regatta, which started in the 1300's It was a bit difficult to work out what was going on, but eventually we found a good position by the Rialto bridge, where could sit on the canal side with our legs dangling over. Occasionally wash from passing launches would catch us unawares, especially ona rising tide. It was quite gloomy as we made our way back to the van, and it would be easy to get quite lost. A compass and/or a GPS would be useful, and tomorrow we'll bring them. Rosemary had a “colitis event” in the evning, which gave us concern that it had all flared up again.
Mon 6th September
Rain during the night, more “colitis events”, and Germans talking loudly outside our open window. 2 vans left at 3 a.m. Not a good night's sleep!
First things first, change the wheel. Luckily the night's rain had dried up. Threads on the spare wheel holder had to be lubricated with olive oil as I'd forgotten WD40.
After a clean-up it was back into Venice – there's a ferry to catch this afternoon. Walked through to Academia Bridge (one of only 3 bridges over the Grand Canal). Everything, including rubbish collection , has to be done by boat. Took lotss more photos, including at least one of a rubbish barge.
Back to the van for lunch, empty waste water, fill up with fresh, and onwards to the ferry port – just round the corner. Minoan lines ferry sails to Igmounenista, and Capri, before reaching Patras, so it is obviously important which order you load vehicles. However there is no attempt to segregate destinations as vehicles arrive, consequently there is chaos as staff attempt to pull out the Patras vehicles first, followed by Iggy Squidgy, and loading Capri last. Loading lasted 3 hours! However, we did sail on time at 5 pm. In port at the same time was our old friend “Costa Fortuna”, the cruise ship we last saw in Dubrovnik. She is a truly enormous ship. She left port just behind us, and we could see her round the bend in the channel, towering over Venice. A remarkable sight.
Our ferry is large, and very comfortable. Lots of very well appointed lounges. Food and drink is very expesnive, at least double that of Venice, and most passengers have come prepared with their own victuals. There is a small swimming pool, but it is empty and roped off. The davits all have a neatly painted sign “change wire 12/2006”, the implication being that the wire that lowers the boats is 4 years beyond its replacement date. On the camping deck electricity cables unroll from the deckhead to provide power to the campervans.
The ship is on Greek time, which is GMT + 2, I.e 3 hours ahead of the UK.
Tues 7th September
A good quiet night, surprisingly. We found camping on deck on the ferry from Ancona to Igmounenista quite noisy. A fine sunny and calm day, with no land in sight. A good day to catch up with the Venice photos, selecting and photoshopping the best, and I sat in one the lounges doing just that. After lunch, reading on the sun deck beside the pool while Rosemary drwe quick sketches of people. About 3.30 we were close to the Albanian coast – rugged and inhospitable. Very few signs of haitation, although occasional cillages appeared, clinging to the mountainside. We spotted a small beach resort or two. I can imagine in 10 years these will be thriving holiday resorts, and any uniqueness and rural charm will have been swallowed up by “civilisation”. As a sign of how the times they are a changin', our mobile phones have received texts saying “Welcome to Albania”. Only a few years ago Albania was ruled by a Communist dictator who kept his people backward, except for opera houses and cinemas showing his favourite films – Norman Wisdom!
We are not allowed to use gas cooking, for safety reasons, so we have an all-in-one chicken casserole cooking in a slow cooker. We noticed the van next door has a halogen oven.
and we are in the Corfu channel, between Albania and Corfu. In 1946 3 RN
destroyers were damaged by Albanian mines laid in these waters. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corfu_Channel_Incident
Wed 8th September
We berthed at 0500, so it was an early call. In fact we were ashore by 0505, and driving through dark Greek streets. It didn't get light until 7 a.m.. We found ourselves on what is laughingly called a motorway along the top of the island, paying nearly €8 for the privilege. Mostly single track, mostly with overtaking prohibited (which seemed to be meaningless), we found ourselves stuck behind a car going less than 30 mph at times. In fact, so far our experience is that there are 2 sorts of Greek driver – one who never goes above 40 mph, and one who never goes below 40 mph. There is generally a hard shoulder, but this is used as the slow lane.It is too narrow for larger vehicles to drive on completely, and lorries straddle the white line between the hard shoulder and the carriageway, so overtaking vehicles are forced to cross the double white line between carriageways. An experience!
We found ourselves at Corinth by 7.30 (more true to say “lost in Corinth”), looking for the Corinth Canal, This impressive feat of engineering is easy to miss, as the road sweeps over the deep cutting. At either end are “sink bridges”, the opposite of lift bridges. The road drops to the canal bed to allow ships to pass, which makes the footpath very silty and slippery. We had several views of the canal, and had an interesting chat with a man at the ??? end of the canal, where ships wait to transit. There is a good sized car park beside the jetty, where, the man said, people commonly wild camped. However, we needed a campsite to empty the loo, etc. Worth remembering as somewhere to overnight.
Camping Isthmia Beach is only 5 Km from the canal, and we got a pitch beside the sea. Cost €20, and there is free wifi. The sea is beautifully warm, but the beach is shingle. Email from Charlotte, she has set a tentative date for the wedding, 25th June 2011. A 500 mL bottle of cold local beer is only €1.30, so I can eke out my English ale.
Thurs 9th September
We had been planning to move on today, but decided to stay another day because we liked the site so much. And have a prime position by the sea. This year we have brought a 20 watt fan with us, and that makes a big difference to the temperature inside the van. Bread has to be ordered, cost only 80 cents, and is delicious. Why is foreign bread always so much tastier then English bread? (OK, not always, but usually)
Fri 10th September
We don't have far to go today, so left the site about 11. It took us quite a while, as most of the road had a 50 Kph limit due to the many bends. The new site is at Epidavros, and our pitch is right by the sea. So close, in fact, that when the wind got up and the sea got a bit choppy, spray was coming over the van. Walked into town, when it got a bit cooler. It seems to be split into 2 parts – the original town, for locals and the port, full of yachts, hotels and restaurants, for tourists. Swam in a warm sea, despite sighting several jellyfish.
Sat 11th September
Awoke to a fine sunrise – and then cloud and wind! We didn't come to Greece for cloud and wind! And it got worse later – thunder and heavy rain! We could have stayed at home for that! Between showers we walked up to visit the small local amphitheatre. It was closed, but you could see it anyway.
Sun 12th September
I've been keeping a toothache at bay for the last week, hoping I could nurse it back home. But today paracetamol refused to touch it, and I have resolved to find a Greek dentist.
The site had filled up rather over the weekend, so negotiating an exit required some careful manoeuvring. We drove first to the theatre at Epidavros, about 10 miles from the site. This is a major historic site, with a very well preserved theatre which has remarkable acoustics – amply demonstrated by every tour guide, and each of their charges. They arrived too late to hear my rendition of the Owl and the Pussycat!
Then across the peninsula to Nafplio. This a pleasant town, with a large and empty port. Masses of parking space beside the port provided the ideal place for lunch – and an overnight stop (along with at least 20 other vans). Ibuprofen managed to handle the toothache, and we have the address of an English speaking dentist whom I'll tackle tomorrow.
Later, 7.30 ish, a huge private yacht arrived, more like a small liner, really, the O'mega flying a Greek flag, to be met by 2 limousines on the jetty, and accompanied by a coastguard vessel. As these were berthing we saw the strangest lighting ever. A dark and overcast sky, sun setting unseen ben=hind the clouds and the mountains, suddenly, between a fold in the mountains, a single narrow beam of red light shone through illuminating a single spot on a cloud not far from us. And strangely, we could actually see the beam. I know you don't believe me so I took some photos. I had time to take several at different exposures – 2 stops under exposure seems about right.
Must remember to Google O'mega. Later – I have, and she's a luxury hire vessel – I dread to think how much that costs per day!
Mon 13th September
Walked into town at 8 am, to try to find the English speaking Danish trained dentist that Rosemary was given the address for. We knew it was near the hospital, but whenever we asked for direction people either hadn't heard of it, or sent us off in completely the wrong direction. One lady walked us to where she said the surgery was, and I waited for the doors to pen, in line with several old Greek women dressed in black. At 9.10 a Range Rover drew up, and a gorgeous blonde bombshell poured herself out – slinky legs, very high heels, bright green clinging dress – opened the door and led us all inside. “WOW!” I thought, “this is a dental experience and a half!” Unfortunately she wasn't a dentist, and I've no idea what I had been queuing for. The bombshell led me back to the street, and pointed out the street I should be in. So along that street – we'd already looked in that street, we found what might be a dentist. I went in, found a tiny waiting room with an elderly man and an elderly lady waiting. I looked quizzical, and the chap pointed to his ankle, and the lady (an elderly Greek lady!) lifted her skirt high to point at her knee. Not a dentist, then!
The next surgery looking door (i.e. with a red cross over it) might have been a dentist – and indeed it was. I rang the bell, and a nice lady answered. Yes it was a dentist, but she was a patient and the dentist was away taking her child to his first day at school. She couldn't say whether the dentist spoke English.
Eventually we found the surgery of our dentist –by asking at yet another pharmacy, who drew a sketch map. A large brass plaque indicated she had graduated in Aarhus in Denmark – but there was no one there! It was now 10 am! 2 hours had got us this far.
So with nothing to be lost, back to the last (absent) dentist. The other patient was very chatty, spoke excellent English, and the dentist's mother gave me a glass of water. The dentist arrived at 10.30, looking harassed. Her eldest son had just started school and she was feeling stressed, she said. She did speak excellent English, looked at my teeth, decided it was primarily an infection, and gave me three options. Extraction, root canal work which would require several visits, which we didn't have time for, or antibiotics. I opted for the last, and she wrote a prescription, and said to come back at any time if I needed to. When I went to pay, she refused, saying she hadn't done anything. And the pharmacy only charged €4.80 for 16 tablets – less than it would cost at home under the NHS (except being over 60 I get free prescriptions).
We had planned to eat out, depending on teeth, and so we did. Outside a little taverna in a side street. The Greek salad was fine, Rosemary had Dolmas (mince and rice in vine leaves) and I had “pork and potatoes cooked in the oven”. Mine was unbelievably salty! I don't know if this general, but I struggled with it (and drank ½ litre of wine).
Later, during an evening stroll, we stood at the back of a tiny Greek Orthodox church, the air thick with incense and the sound of chanting. I'm not at all religious (not at ALL!) but this was magical. Interestingly, the Orthodox church was the church of Rome, but moved to Constantinople when the Roman empire moved its centre there. The 2 parts of the Roman empire split, and the current Roman church was formed. (Orthodox priests can marry, but cannot cut their hair or shave).
Finally, coffee at a wifi cafe. Charlotte has booked her wedding for 28th May 2011, and is off to Crete with her future in-laws for a holiday tomorrow. Phew! Now it's just a question of sorting out the details. And this afternoon she had the handover of their new house – all nice and shiny and newly carpeted to move into when they get back from Crete.
Tues 14th September
An early morning walk around town, before the sun gets too hot, followed by an hour on a seat opposite the wifi cafe I connected to last night reading the Guardian. Then on to the World Heritage Site at Mykines. Stopped at a funny little site, Camping Mycenae, but which has been well recommended by several people. As soon as we arrived an elderly lady brought us grapes. Later, 3 pine cones, some basil, a lemon, and 4 fresh figs arrived.
Wed 15th September
Well that was an awful night! Slept alright until 1.30, then continually awoken by a water pump that came on for about 10 seconds periodically, dogs having a barking match, and cats fighting. Also most peculiar dreams, presumably the result of antibiotics and painkillers. Then the alarm clock went at 6.30.
We had come to Mykines to see the Mycenaean ruins, at Mycenae, and wanted to get there early, whilst it was still cool and before the coach tours arrived. We paid the site fees – a rather expensive €18, and drove the 2 Km uphill to Mycenae. The car park was already half full with a convoy of Italian motorhomes. Their vans all had numbers on, and there were all parked in numerical order – very un Italian! Number 2 was missing, I noticed. Obviously he'd found an escape tunnel. The other half of the car park was in the process of being filled up with a Francophone convoy, mostly French but some Swiss.
The advertised entrance fee is €8. The girl at the desk asked where we from, then charged us only €4 each. No idea why – maybe we looked old enough to be EU pensioners?
The Mycenaean civilisation predates the ancient Greek civilisation by a couple of thousand years, almost contemporary with Stonehenge. The key feature is the set of large (very large) beehive tombs – like domes but pointed. One of these was the largest domed structure for 1500 years, presumably until the Haghia Sophia in Istanbul.. There is also a cistern, a series of unlit steps that go down and down and down. I ventured so far on my own before losing my nerve. I had a torch, but it wasn't too bright, and I had visions of tripping, and bouncing all the way to the bottom! I could go on, but I must remember I'm not writing a guide book – but it is well worth a visit.
While we there several coach tours arrived, walked quickly past us, then back to their coaches. We watched the Italian convoy depart, in close formation as if afraid they would get lost if the gap between got more than 5 yards.
So then back to Nafplio for lunch on the quay. The quay is huge, and there's masses of space to park. My tooth was very painful in the evening, after the painkillers had worn off. I'm trying to reduce my paracetamol and ibuprofen intake because I don't want them to become the problem. Also a gland under my chin i8s very swollen and painful.
Thurs 16th September
Decided to go back to the dentist for advice. At least now we don't have to spend 2 hours searching. I was quite happy for her to take the tooth out – but she said every tooth was there for a purpose, and refused. Instead she gave me a prescription for stronger anti biotics, and her name & telephone number (Irina).
So after lunch on spinach pastry – which looked and tasted remarkably similar to something we had in Turkey, we headed off round the bay, along a rugged coast road that looked and felt exactly like one we had driven on in Turkey, to a tiny campsite at Cape Makronisi, which seemed to have space for only 3 tourers, €18 pn inc electricity. It's right beside the sea, 5 yards at the most from our door, but other than that there isn't much to do here. So tomorrow we'll move on.
Fri 17th September
Watched a beautiful sunrise, had a chat with our nice Dutch Rapido owning neighbours (also a MHF subscriber), then departed. Continued south along the coast, then west to Leonidio to buy fruit & veg. Continued west to the monastery at Eloni, high in the mountains, but with not a lot to see other than the view. Here we lunched, and it was nice to have a cool mountain breeze, after the heat at sea level. Thence to the large mountain village of Kosmas, where we intend to spend the night. (4000 ft usl).
Sat 18th September
Kosmas is almost at the top of the mountain, because a few minutes after we left we were heading downhill, that continued almost non stop to the sea. On the way down to the coast we bought fuel at a BP station. We had to pay cash as they didn't take cards, and we didn't get a receipt either – so some things haven't changed despite Greece's financial crisis! We stopped off at the Byzantine ruined town of Gerachi, before continuing to another Byzantine town, Monemvasia, this time very much not ruined. Monemvasia is rather like a small Rock of Gibraltar, on an isthmus, and only accessible on foot, as the roads are only wide enough for a donkey. It is a glorious place, well worth the visit. We came across a wedding, and waited to watch the bride and entourage walk to the church – you've never seen so many stiletto heels struggling on cobbles!
We parked on the mainland, overlooking the causeway, and walked the mile or so to Monemvasia. There is parking alongside the road in, but it's quite hectic. Back at the car park, I found some wifi connections, but these proved to be intermittent – as was the town's power. Suddenly all the lights went out everywhere, whilst Rosemary was investigating alternative overnight parking. She decided we should move immediately to where several other vans were parked. Which we did. It wasn't a quiet night, though.
Sun 19th September
Today we plan to walk up to the citadel at the top of the rock – obviously best done before it gets too hot, so woke early. The view across the isthmus to the rock, and the sunrise, was spectacular – I hope my photos do it justice.
It took us an hour and a half to walk in to Monemvasia, then climb to the citadel . It was obvious there are many ruined buildings still awaiting investigation and possible rebuilding. Then down again, and back to the van for lunch and a siesta. We decided to catch the bus back, because of the heat, and that was an experience. There was a throng of Greek matrons waiting for the bus – I guess an earlier bus had been cancelled because I had to wait 25 minutes. When the bus came I was carried forward in the stampede, everyone jostling to get to the front. There were so many around the door the arriving passengers couldn't get off!
Now it's the afternoon, VERY hot, and the 240 volt inverter we use to power PCs and a desktop fan when not on hook up has packed up. I hope it has only tripped on thermal cut-out, not burnt out. YESS! We have 240 volts again, and the fan – a bit of relief from the heat.
Late afternoon, and we stroll back onto the rock. We were going to catch the bus, but we discovered from a timetable on the bus door (nowhere else, just on the bus door!) that it runs half hourly and we had 20 minutes to wait. We reached the rock just as the bus did. After a lot more walking the streets we had a fine meal, surrounded by cats and kittens, and with a great view over the Aegean. We were offered snapper fish, but €60 per kilo it seemed a trifle pricey. Then a walk back in the dark .
Mon 20th September
A moderately early start, and we took a spectacular mountain road to Neapoli, having been told by a yachtie in Nafploi that it was a nice town. We drove through, decided we disagreed with her view, and drove back along the coast to Gythio. Although this bit was less spectacular, at least we could get into 5th gear much of the time. On the way we passed the wreck of a coaster on the sandy shore. This bit of shore is also where turtles lay their eggs. I'd love to see a wild turtle.
Beyond Gythio, where there were huge piles of uncollected rubbish because of a strike, we made our way to Camping Gythion Bay, this having been recommended as naturally shaded and informal by ???? on the Magbaz website. We are now parked amongst orange groves, with fig, pomegranate and olive trees scattered about too. And there is free wifi. Why can't the Caravan Club and the Camping Club also do that instead of charging an arm and a leg per hour?! I've been investigating where to put my photos on line. The last couple of years I've used www.fpic.co.uk but this is an absolute pain to use, you can't add descriptions, and looks pretty naff. I've had a dabble at www.photoblog.com/bacchanalia, and this is a lot easier to use, looks better, gives you the ability to add descriptions to each image.
Time to catch up on the washing. An efficient spin cycle meant the washing was dry within an hour. The water in the showers is HOT – dangerously hot if you have a small child.
Tues 21st September –
at Camping Gythion Bay
A quiet day chilling on site. OK, chilling is a bit strong – cooling a little might be better! We have noticed the water is tasting pretty horrible – the Naturpure filter is supposed to prevent that. A new filter (these cost £45 each!) solved the problem, but I shall probably send the old filter back – it failed to prevent a foul taste in Croatia last year, too.
Wed 22nd September – The Mani
and Cape Tenaro
Time to move on, we can't stay still too long. Cost was a very reasonable €15 pn, as they take ACSI cards. We went in to Gythio for a couple of hours to look around, extract some cash, and buy some fruit and veg. There is a strike of rubbish collectors, and great mounds of rubbish are piled up each side of the town. Presumably a result of the Greek financial crisis. Then on down the coast to Kotronas, a small fishing village. We parked on the quay for lunch, an attractive little place. And this looks eminently suitable for overnighting, although we plan to move on.
And we moved on down the Mani, a very rugged strip of Greece, along roads in spectacular scenery, down the minor road on the eastern coast. We found the roads surprisingly good (mostly!). The Mani is famous for its towers, built by feuding families as late as the 19th century. The feuds used guns and cannon, and went on for generations. Going as far south as is possible, we stopped in the small car park near Cape Tenaro. Here there are various ancient Greek ruins, including a “Sanctuary and death oracle of Poseidon Tainarios” in which people have left offerings of money, trinkets etc. I reckon I could have collected €30. We walked off to find the lighthouse on the point – about 40 minutes along a fairly rugged path, as dark clouds threatened rain – but only a few spots materialised.
And as dusk fell, there remained only us, an Italian motorhome, and a man in a car cleaning a gun...
Thurs 23rd September
And as dawn broke, a number of pick-up trucks arrived, men with guns and dogs milled around, before fanning out into the surrounding hills, and shots rang out. A sensible few wore fluorescent jackets, the rest were completely inconspicuous amongst the rocks - will my rusty first aid be called upon? I've no idea what they were hunting, we didn't see to many signs of life yesterday. Later – the Italians next door said they're hunting quail, the nearby town of Girolimenas was founded on the export of quail, and at one time exported 7,000 quail a month.
It was as well we walked to the point yesterday – it would have been risky today. With shots ringing in our ears, we left and meandered our way back up the Mani, spending several hours parked above Vathia, and walked into the remains of this historic village. Our guidebook (Bradt: Greece: The Peloponnese) says that from 1805 there was a war in the village (no more than a few hundred yards across) that lasted 40 years and cost 100 lives. That does seem incredible. But the whole of the Mani seems to have been like that!
After lunch, we continued our meander down to Girolimenas, where we plan to spend the night. Not a lot here, except the usual tavernas and restaurants. A vintage car rally was passing through, and I was amused to see a Morris Minor and a Morris Oxford a lot younger than the ones I used to have. There were 3 Rolls Royces, several vintage Americans (how can you drive a car where the front is 6 feet in front of the driver, and the back is 8 feet behind, especially on these roads?!), an E type Jaguar, a Triumph Spitfire Mk IV, and numerous Fiats, Porsches, Mercedes, etc. I don't know why, but I had never imagined the Greeks being into vintage foreign cars. But that's the beauty of travel – we leave behind the wreckage of shattered illusions wherever we go.
Rosemary sat in the square to do some sketching, and soon attracted a following – 8 locals stood around to watch the fun!
Fri 24th September –
Girolimenas to Neo Itilo
We had planned to follow a footpath up the cliffs behind the town this morning, before it got too hot. We were out walking at 9, but decided against the foot path because: we weren't sure we could find the start; the path up the cliff, see from the town, seemed particularly scary; and finally, quail hunters were out in force, and we could imagine emerging at the top of the cliff into a war zone! So instead, we followed a road which, apart from hunters in pick up trucks, had very little traffic. We did see an enormous bird, bigger than an English buzzard and with black wing tips. I took some photos, which although some way off may provide sufficient info for identification. We walked past an interesting Byzantine church – which unfortunately was locked.
Moving on, we stopped for lunch at Areopoli. The town has a by-pass, and initially looks particularly unappealing. The town itself, however, is lovely, and worth a meander – and we picked up free wifi in a cafe.
Thence on a very sort distance to the beach at Neo Itilo, where we joined several Austrian vans, several Polish vans, an Italian and a Belgian. Austrians only seem to come in pairs, for safety, I presume? But Greece has seemed one of the safest places we've been to, on par with Turkey. But a caveat to that – there was also a wifi connection, but when I connected both Google Chrome and Internet Explorer gave me urgent warnings that the security certificate was incorrect, and it was likely an attempt to hijack the PC. It may have been OK, but I disconnected quickly anyway.
Swimming here is good – a sandy bottom extends out shallow for some way, but there was a cold wind.
At about 9 pm, the heavens opened, and it rained hard all night, but eased off in the morning.
Sat 25th September - Stoupa
A pleasant spot, overlooking the sea, but not a lot else to do, so we moved on. Firstly, just around the bay to where a restaurant advertises a free camping field, presumably with the expectation that you eat at the restaurant. The restaurant looked good, but again not much to do from the site – not even swim. So up over the mountains, and back down again to Stoupa, a resort, where we stopped at Camping Kalogria, €20 pn. Large, shaded, friendly, but no wifi.
Our guidebook says that Stoupa is a new up market resort, and that's what it it is. Good beach, lots of cafes & restaurants, and not a lot of wifi. We had just walked to the far end of Stoup when the heavens opened again. Folding umbrellas helped, but not much. We took shelter in a cafe, and asked for a pita gyros, expecting a reasonably priced snack, and we declined the offer of chips. When it came it was a full blown meal – the best we've had in Greece – but it wasn't what we were expecting! Our evening meal was in the slow cooker in the van, on a time switch, so I managed to turn that off before cooking started – we couldn't have eaten 2 full meals.
I returned to the village with my wifi finder, and found the only accessible wifi at the Akrogiali, a cafe right at the southern end, and also the longest established. For the cost of a double Greek coffee for Rosemary, and a ¼ litre of very reasonable red wine for me (total cost €3.50) we had a couple of hours catching up on email and news – and that included free mineral water and peanuts. They have an extensive breakfast menu, which might tempt me tomorrow. An impressive establishment – they even put on a fresh linen table cloth, not the usual paper one.
It's now evening, it's raining, and thunder is rumbling around.
Sun 26th September - Stoupa
Thunder not only rumbled round – it sat overhead for several hours. The rain lashed down – we don't recall such heavy rain on the van before! A cloudy morning cleared to a fine afternoon.. The sea had a swell that put Rosemary off swimming, and I found myself the only person in the sea. The storm had rearrasnged the beach chairs, and built up quite a sand bar.
Then a long lunch at the Akrogiali – 2 different mezzes, much of which seemed to be cheese, or deep fried cheese. The house red wine is not bad at all. The advantage of eating here is we can connect to their wifi while we wait.
There is a supermarket along the seafront, that from the front looks like a small newsagent. Inside that you see that it is a small supermarket – but it keeps going back and back, has an upstairs, and seems to stock everything! Amazing. (and it sells English papers. Sunday Times but only Saturday's Guardian)
Mon 27th September Stoupa to
Another swim – in the water by 8 am. Then breakfast at the Akrogiali. Full English breakfast €5, and it was pretty good by anybody's standards. We have to leave Stoupa or we'll be here for every meal!
Left the site about 10, and took a road up into the mountains: Pyrgos;Kastania, Saidona,and Exochori, then down again to the sea at Kardamyli. Not a particularly difficult road, although many hairpins there was very little traffic. At Kastania we walked up into the village through very narrow and steep streets to see some Byzantine churches. One, tiny and held together by steel wire and 1000 years old, was accessible by the key left in the nook beside the locked door. At scenic spot beside a bandit's tower I was stung on the toe by a wasp. Really painful! I could have done without that!
We had hoped to find somewhere to overnight at Kardamyli, even though the campsite there had closed, but it all seemed unwelcoming, so we moved on. Leaving the main road to Paralia Vegas, we drove down some very windy roads to Cape Kitries, ending up on a waterfront near the Akrogiali, right beside the sea. The driving here was exhausting – absolute concentration all the time, as there was a hairpin bend every 20 yards, or so it seemed.
Tues 28th September
Akrogiali to Sparta
10 yards to walk for a pre breakfast swim – can't be bad. Left fairly early, heading for Kalamata, where our planned road to Sparta turned off. Kalamata is a large, sprawling, and entirely unimpressive. We were pleased to find the Sparta road and get out of the mess. The Sparta road is another of those exhilarating white knuckle rides, as you climb and twist, twist and climb. Actually, I do it a disservice – it's not as steep, nor as narrow, as many Swiss passes we've been over, but it seems to go on for ever! No chances to relax at all. Near Kalamata a whole series of retaining walls have been expertly “grafitted” with large and expertly painted images, with text in Greek and English, mainly on an environmental theme. I was so impressed I stopped and took a shed load of photos of them.
Reaching Sparta – these days a modern bustling city, with no hint of its past reputation, we found somewhere to park (after attempting to drive the wrong way down a one way street). We found a cafe selling the pitta giros we'd been looking for (it had a picture of it!) - and it was both cheap and very tasty. Lots of interesting shops here – and we bought a new mat to put outside the door on site – how long before we drive away without it?
Later we drove out to Mystras to find a campsite. Camping Castle Vciew is pricey - €18 + €4 for electricity. As it was still early, and the weather wasn't good, we drove the 35 miles to Tripoli to try to find the autogas station. We had found a reference to it on the web – and were surprised to find it actually existed, AND had gas available. That was their only product, so no gas = no custom. We were further surprised to find we had used only half a tank of gas, so we could easily have lasted 6 weeks in Greece without refill – but it's good to know it is available – and Tripoli, being fairly central, is accessible from most of the Peloponnese in an emergency. Whilst we were there a family of gypsies arrived, and had their domestic tank refilled – so there's a good chance they will refill Calor gas too. We were less impressed when the 10 year old gypsy girl immediately started begging, despite her father having a roll of €10 notes in his pocket.
Then back to Camping Castle view for the night. Now we know we are OK for gas, we can afford to not have electricity. There is a free wifi signal here that comes and goes.
Wed 29th September - Mystras
An early start, to get to the old Mystras site before it got crowded (in fact, it never got crowded, unlike Ephesus). Entrance €5 each. There is a lot of climbing to be done – it is perched on a laege hill, with the castle right at the top. Numerous Byzantine churches with painted walls and frescoes, in various stages of repair. There is the despot's palace (despot being a title, not a derogatory term), which appears to be in the process of being rebuilt completely (which rather defeats the object of an historical site, surely?). After several hours we returned to the van – just as the heavens opened. A tiring day! Then back to the site to relax.
Thurs 30th September –
Sparta to Petalidi
Back on the road by 9 a.m.. That was a cold night!. Another drive over the Sparta to Kalamata pass – about 5000 feet at its highest. This time the sun was shining, the air was clear and bright, and it was an enjoyable drive (until we reached Kalamata, obviously!). Somewhere near the top we realised our crockery cupboard was open. Although the plates aren't secured, and we had been round many hairpin bends, none of our Portmeirion china shifted at all – probably each succeeding hairpin bend cancelled out the effects of the previous one! Lucky! At Kalamata we turned right, intending to visit the large Carrefour supermarket, but missed the turning and instead visited a smaller Carrefour a few miles further on – and it took Mastercard. We arrived at the quayside at Petalidi in time for lunch. Lovely view, and a strong cooling wind.
Fri 1st October – Petalidi to Agios Andreas
Friday is market day in Petalidi. Mostly fruit and veg, and 3rd rate clothes and shoes. A fish stall sold locally caught fish – all tiny. No wonder the Med has been fished out!
A long drive today – 9 miles along the coast to another fishing village, Agios Andreas, where we again parked on the quay. Found a cafe that sold wifi access, €5 for 20 hours, so had some of that. It's interesting how access to news has changed – until recently we struggled to get BBC World Service, but we haven't bothered at all this year, just relying on the Internet.
Sat 2nd October Koroni
Lots of coming and going by boats during the night. We hummed and hawed about staying or moving on, but in the end we drove a whole 6 miles to Camping Koroni, at Koroni. We need to empty the loo, and do some washing, so needs must. We got a discount of 20% because we had stayed at a site in the same chain, and the cost came to just over €17 pn, but there is free wifi. We found we were the only occupants of the site.
After lunch, a walk along the beach into Koroni – another pleasant fishing village, with lots of restaurants
Sun 3rd October Koroni
another day on site. The Camperstop book, bible of aires and wild camping, says there is wild camping on the quay, but there is definitely nowhere available now. 3 vans have camped in a small car park, but I don't think this is on.. We walked back to the castle, and visited the small convent in the castle grounds – a nice garden, and elderly nuns who are all smiles, and gave us Turkish delight, although obviously the Greeks don't call it that!
Mon 4th October – Finikounda
Into Koroni for a spot of shopping. Bought yet another broom for the van, only €2, bread straight from a traditional oven – it was HOT! - some sea bass for tea, €10 per Kg. Presumably it was farmed bass – most of it is, and wild Mediterranean fish of any size are rare. We returned to the convent to take some photos in the sunshine for Rosemary to draw . An elderly nun was sitting in the doorway making lace, and singing away to herself. Lovely
Then onward, over the peninsula to Camping Thine at Finikound. A nice shady site, but with very tight pitches, and lots of Germans and Austrians obviously here long term. After lunch, we walked the mile or so into Finikound. We found Finikound quite disappointing, rather like an out of season Camber Sands, or Bexhill on a wet Sunday.. We saw several other couples also wandering about disconsolately, wondering what to do.
Tues 5th October Finikounda
Another day at Camping Thine, “chilling” (i.e. doing nothing much at all). We're close to the wifi aerial, so get wifi in the van, which is useful.
Wed 6th October Methoni
We've noticed that none of the long term residents rise very early – I suppose if you're here for 6 months there's no need to rush up at daybreak to do anything. We have a long drive this morning – 7 miles into Methoni.
Methoni is a lot bigger than Finikounda, and has an enormous castle, mostly ruined but with a fascinating Venetian extension into the sea. . We parked by the sea with the intention of overnighting there (beside the “No caravans, no tents” sign), but 3 separate Brits (OK, 2 Brits and an Aussie) stopped to tell us the nearby municipal campsite was closed, but was still open and not charging, electricity, hot showers, no charge – and only 5 yards from the sea. Sandy beach, but so shallow it felt like Southend! I swapped 3 novels with the Aussie, who said he was so desperate for something to read he'd read the bible. Back in the town there are a few wifi cafes, so it was good to sit there in the shade with a cold beer and catch up on mail and news. Also, I found a nearby bench where I could just connect anyway. Useful. I added more photos to the photoblog (www.photoblog.com/bacchanalia)
Thurs 7th October – Methoni
Another lazy day on site. Rosemary went back to the castle to do some more sketching and painting, and I finished a rather strange novel “Poltergeist”. As we were on the site free, we felt obliged to go for a drink or three at the site taverna. Here we joined 3 British Hymer owners travelling in convoy, and swapped a few tales. Apparently E.leclerc's boxed red wine is very good value. Must look some out.
Fri 8th October - Pylos
After swapping more tales with another English couple in a Rapido, we left the site and parked in town on the seafront. For Rosemary to visit the castle again. Meanwhile, a lorry load of goats arrived, shepherded along a jetty and into a small (very small!) boat. Shortly after that they were all shepherded off the boat, where they congregate in a heap at the end of the jetty, eventually being persuaded to come ashore, where they ran along the sand in front of us, as a number of men attempted to keep them in some order. I'm sure the show wasn't put on for the benefit of tourists, but we are still puzzled! Meanwhile, the boat owner had a boat full of goat's crap to clean up!
After lunch we headed off to find Pylos, where we are parked on the quayside in heavy rain. This was where a naval force of Russian, French and British ships “accidentally” beat a large Ottoman Empire fleet. Apparently the idea was just stop the Ottomans laying waste to the Peloponnese, with no intention of fighting. Some of the Ottoman ships fired on the Allies, who fired back, and sank most of the Ottoman fleet. King George III was quite embarrassed about it!. There are memorials to the 3 admirals in Pylos.
Sat 9th October Pylos/Methoni
We awoke to more rain, which continued on and off all day. As a consequence we didn't travel too far from the van, apart from a couple of shopping forays into town. At about 3 pm, when I was just contemplating another cup of tea, a police car pulled up alongside. It seems that neither parking nor camping is allowed on this enormous and empty (apart from several derelict boats, and other detritus) quayside. (there is at least an acre of empty tarmac). He was very friendly, and there was no hassle, but obviously Pylos does not welcome motorhomers' money.
So still in the rain, we moved on to see Gialova Lagoon, where many migrating water birds drop in for a rest on their journey. There is also a long thin sand spit kept as a nature reserve. In sunshine I'm sure it would be lovely, but in the rain we decided not to stop, but to head back to the “free camping” at Methoni.
Back at the Methoni site, disaster struck. We pulled into the pitch we vacated 2 days ago, and we should have been warned by the puddle. Instead, we sank into the mud, stuck! A nearby Frenchman leapt out of a van, and insisted (in French) he could push us out. Well he tried manfully, but the wheels just spun. Track mats helped a bit, but not much. Several others gathered round, but we were still stuck. Time to get out the winch! It's only rated at half a ton, but with the help of the engine and spinning drive wheels, managed to pull all 3.5 tons out of the mud. I gave the helpful Frenchman one of my last bottles of English ale – greater love hath no man...
Most of the pitches seemed prone to bogginess, so in the end we parked on one of the site gravel roads. For electricity we had to use 2 cables joined together, first time we've done that.
Sun 10th October Marathopoli
It was dry this morning, even sunny at times. We left the site before 9, and drove into Methoni for bread and wifi. We found if parked close to the cafe we could get wifi in the van, checking emails, sending Rosemary's newsletter, and reading the Guardian.
Then on to the Navarino sand dunes & Voidokilia beach. Well not “on” to them, but to the car park beside them. While there we watched a tractor rescue a 4x4 that thought he could drive on the dunes. The car park itself looked rather sodden, and we didn't want to risk bogging down again, so we parked on the gravel road, beside a small stream. Sitting there with a cup of tea, we were amazed to see a kingfisher perched on a branch over the stream only 20 feet away, diving into the water every so often and returning to his perch. In 63 years I've never seen a kingfisher in England. Now in 4 weeks in Greece I've see 3, and watched one from close to for several minutes. The flash of iridescent blue is unmistakable.
The dunes form a bay that is almost perfectly semi-circular. The bay is very shallow, a lovely blue-green colour, and in the summer is very popular and crowded. In mid October, however, there were very few people about.
Finally on to Marathopoli, where we parked beside the harbour. The plan is to spend the night here, police willing! The sea here is choppy, and the place has an “end of the earth” feel about it – just the sort of place I like! A heavy squall came through, lots of wind and rain, but stopped after 15 minutes. Black clouds all around, though, and more rain and rainbows later. And whilst we were eating, a ferret (?)or what looked like a very large weasel (but didn't look like a stoat) trotted down the quayside, stopped to loo at us, then continued into the barrier of big boulders that form part of sea defences. (Weasels are weasily recognised but stoats are stoatally different!)
Mon 11th October Messene
Drove into the mountains to the ruins of ancient Messene. These are certainly extensive, and many parts are being “restored” (i.e. rebuilt). The roads were generally very good, but one town in particular the entire road surface had been removed – and there was on indication of its imminent replacement. The roads are so twisty, and in places steep, that once you get behind a slow moving lorry, you're there until one of you turns off.
We had planned to spend the night in the car park at Messene, but there were signs prohibiting it, so we moved a couple of miles away to the car park of Voulcanou Monastery. Rosemary attempted a visit, but the door was closed. Later, a pack of 4 large dogs appeared, and appear to be attached to th monastery, as a long haired and full bearded monk came out to feed them. They seemed to amuse themselves by chasing cars that occasionally used the mountain road, barking loudly. When we had a shower, the sound of the pump really got them going, they raced off to the road to chase a car, which wasn't there. Overnight we were treated to a session of dog howls, two separate choruses from a cat's choir (they were definitely “singing”), and hoots from an owl in the tree next to us. Otherwise, it was a quiet night!
Tues 12th October
Megalopi, Karitena, Stemnitsa to Dimitsana
The dogs were still there this morning, mostly quiet, but they got excited when I sneezed. Then a car from the monastery started up, and all 4 dogs loped off down the road, followed by the car. We never saw them again, and we've no idea where they went. The road goes on down the mountain for a couple of miles.
This morning the monastery was open, and went in for a visit. It was just like being back in Romania – it could easily be one of the Romanian monasteries we visited. A nice little church in the centre of the compound, with the usual icons. We left a €5 donation to make them more inclined to tolerate motorhomers. Heading back down the mountain, we made our way via Megalopi, Karitena, Stemnitsa to Dimitsana, where we parked outside the Museum of Water Power. We had planned to visit, then spend the night outside. However, we found the museum had closed yesterday for 2 weeks for repairs. Undaunted, we decided to stay her for the night anyway.
Wed 13th Oct - Olympia
We spent a very quiet night beside the water mill museum, and moved off about 9 a.m., parking beside the cemetery at Dimitsana and walking back into the town – there is hardly any parking in the town at all, certainly not for a motorhome. In a small supermarket we watched a TV showing the rescue of the 33 Chilean miners – all very heartwarming.
Then on to another monastery, at Philosophou. This involved a descent down a steep, narrow road with many hairpin bends, a long and steep drop, and no passing places. (But on the good side, the road surface was excellent). Fortunately we met nothing coming the other way, but a car was bout to start the long journey up. At the monastery we were greeted by a monk – full beard, long hair, excellent English – but a cleft palate, which made it difficult to understand. His genuine welcome was obvious, and we were offered Turkish Delight and water. The church was built about 1600, replacing an older monastery built into the cliff face 800 meters away (and several hundred steps). We visited the old monastery, and could well understand why they built a new one!. The old one, established in 967, has a maximum depth of 8 feet between the cliff face and the wall (which looked over a precipice)
Then the terrifying drive back up. The road and bends were fine, it was the prospect of meeting another vehicle that terrified me! Fortunately, we got to the top without incident. Then on by a mountain road to Olympia, where we stopped at Camping Diana.
We were the sole occupants of Camping Diana. The elderly lady owner wanted to charge €27, the high season charge, although the swimming pool was empty. The “final price” dropped from €22 to €20 quickly, with no real haggling from us, except our genuine surprise at being asked €27. We took the pitch nearest the office, because we could get wifi in the van there. Other pitches you would have to take your laptop to reception.
Thurs 14th Oct (Battle of
Hastings 1066) Olympia
We felt duty bound to visit the ancient remains of Olympia, indeed that was the whole purpose of comng here. Neither Rosemary nor I expected much from the day, but in the event it was unexpectedly interesting. We had not realised, for instance, that this was the site of the Temple to Zeus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. We realised then that we had no ideas what the others were, Googled them, and found we had seen another at Ephesus 2 years ago. (I visited the Great Pyramid at Giza in 1976).
As we walked back to the van for lunch, the heavens opened, and we got back into the van just in time to avoid a drenching. Later the rain cleared, the sun came out, and we walked back to the museum. The museum was surprisingly good, with exhibits well laid out and illuminated.
Fri 15th October -
Left the site at 9 ish, having walked into town for bread, and took the main road to Pyrgos. It was a pleasant change to relax a bit, 5th gear and auto-cruise. That hasn't been possible for quite a while. We found ourselves driving through Pyrgos, although we hadn't intended that. Looked like quite an interesting town. We'd have stopped and looked – but there was nowhere to park. We were making for Katakolo, a fishing village with a deep enough port for cruise ships to come alongside. The quay is big and wide, and camping here is accepted. The harbour master dropped by to tell us water was free, but electric hook up was €5 per day. Shortly after we arrived, 3 British Hymers arrived, whom we had met at ????
The town is obviously set up almost entirely for the cruise ships. A cruise ship was in, and the main street was bustling – tourist shops either side for 200 yards. Fleets of buses were taking passengers to and from Olympia. The ships sailed at 2 pm, and immediately the shutters came down, and the shops closed, and won't be open until Sunday when the next ship arrives.
We did find a local supermarket, not at all touristy, and a local fast food cafe. The menus were all in Greek, prices were cheap, and it was where locals bought their snacks to take away. We bought gyros pitta for €2 each and took them back to the van for lunch. Fast food at its best!
Son after wa arrived, we noticed 3 big Hymers cruising around, looking for a spot to stop. It was the same group of Brits we had met at Methoni, and soon they were parked alongside.
The waterfront is full of restaurants, many offering free wifi. I selected the one closest to the van (and with public seating nearby) ordered a beer and happily read emails and the Guardian. I alos have the wifi key for later use from the public seating.
Sat 16th October- Katakolo
Overnight we were kept awake by thunderstorms directly overhead, and very heavy rain. Our Hymer neighbours have gone off to visit Olympia, using the train. The journey costs only €3 return, for a 45 minute journey and that seems an excellent way to see Olympia. As they said, it would cost more than that in diesel.
There is a little museum in town, working models of ancient Greek inventions, that looked interesting. However, it is closed, just like the rest of the town, because there are no ships in. Only the restaurants and the supermarket are open.
And at 10 pm, another thunderstorm and heavy rain, and strong winds!
Sun 17th October Katakolo
Woke to a brighter morning, but it didn't last. A number of thunderstorms came through with the torrential rain. In one case, hail the size of small marbles bounced off the roof. It looked quite spectacular splashing into the sea just behind us. The plan was to move on this morning, but the rain showers are so heavy it's safer to stay put for a while. Another ship is due in at 11 – they'll have had it a bit choppy.
Well the heavy rain and thunder continued until 11.40, exactly as the Coral berthed. I'd guess we had at least 2 inches, and moving off was out of the question.
We did manage
a walk between showers to the lighthouse on the headland, and continued down to
the point – a view rather diminished by the placing of a sewage farm right on
the end of the point.
Mon 18th October Katakolo & Pyrgos
Woke to a reasonable morning, as a large cruise ship came in. 20 coaches arrived to take passengers to Olympia, just as the heavens opened again, but at least there was no thunder this time. We caught the little train into Pyrgos, 20 minutes €1.60 each return. The rain came on even heavier as we arrived, and after a coffee decided to return. However the train we expected to catch wasn't running, so we had another 2 hours to kill. Luckily, the rain then stopped, and we found Pyrgos a fascinating little tow, lots of interesting little shops. It had several superb fish shops and we bought a couple of nice looking fish for €6 – no idea what they were, but they were jolly tasty! And having had a problem with mozzies at night, we invested in an electric mozzie killer. It remains to see how well it works!
Back in Katakolo, the cruise ship had sailed, so all the shops were shut again. We decided to pay for electricity for one night - €5, as the batteries were well down, and there'd been no sun to recharge them. However, so far we've found no one to pay, although we are plugged in OK.
We have moved the van next to the inside of the harbour, facing along the quay, to avoid running the cable over a road where random people seem to drive to the end, turn round and drive back again. Unfortunately, this meant the side of the van took the full force of the gale that was now blowing, so we felt a bit like being at sea. The boats alongside us were being tossed all over the place.
Tues 19th October Kastro
We never did find anyone to pay for the electricity, but now we have fully charged batteries. During a gap in heavy showers, I changed to the spare loo cassette, so that should gives us another 3 days use, with care. Having topped up the water, we moved to the car park close to the town, and found we could pick up wifi from Cafe Arte. Useful.
After a bit of shopping, we noticed that the small museum was open. It's only open when ships are in, and sometimes not even then. The museum comprised scale models of many of the ancient Greek inventions, and was absolutely fascinating, well worth the €2 entrance.
Leaving Katakolo (I love the name!) at midday, we looked for a beach nearby to have lunch. We missed a few turnings, but eventually parked beside a beach, to discover the sea really raging. Beach furniture had been swept into a wet and broken mess, and it was obvious that the sea was much higher than normal for the time of year, catching everyone by surprise. Every so often a larger wave would catch people unawares, leaving them knee deep and still wearing trousers.
Thence on to Amaliada, where we had heard were some good supermarkets. I didn't like Amaliada! It didn't help that it was raining hard, and the 2 pm rush hour was in full swing, but almost every road is narrow, and one way only. Unusually for Greece, direction signs were poor. Double parking was common. We never did find the supermarkets we were after, but came across one by chance as we tried to leave. We used Sally the Satnav, not to follow the roads, because there are no Greek roads on Tom-Tom, but to give us an accurate compass. We knew we just had to head northwest, heading for campsites on the coast near Kastro.
None of the sites looked inviting, and some were closed. We ended up on a firm area beside the sea where a number of motorhomes were already parked, to find our Hymer friends from Katakolo already there. There's water, cold water showers, and a superb view over the sea, 10 yards away. There is still a rough sea running, and the small cliff (5 foot!) has been undercut in places, so we''ll pull back a yard or two before we go to bed.
Wed 20th October Kastro
And did it rain during the night?! But by 9.30 it was nice and sunny again. This is a great spot, much better than most campsites, but just lacks loo emptying and wifi.
After breakfast we drove up into Kastro, a little town about 2 miles away. It has a large castle, but although it was only €3 we decided against going in – I think we're now ruined out!
Then on to the little port of Kylini, where ferries sail to Kefalonia and Zakynthos. A remarkably unremarkable place. The only ATM was in the port itself, and the town had quite a run down air about it, even by Greek standards. Here we found that our CaxtonFX prepaid Euro card had run out of Euros, so I had to use Nationwide instead. After lunch, we drove back to the beach we had just come from, to enjoy the sun, a cup of tea, and a chat with the Hymer folks.
However, we do have to empty 2 loo cassettes before we get on the ferry tomorrow, so we drove a short distance to Camping ????. €15 pn with an ACSI card, inc electricity and wifi to the van. Unlike many sites we've been on recently, this one seems relatively busy. After a battle with Barclays not accepting my password, I loaded some more Euros onto the CaxtonFX card.
Thurs 21st October (Trafalgar
Day, 1805) to Patras and the ferry
A nice morning, and we decided to drive the 7 miles back to the beach site for a bacon and egg breakfast (a rare treat!). We now have 2 empty loo cassettes ready for the trip home. We didn't fill with water because we could do that at the beach.
Back at the beach, the selfish German continued to spread all his gear out to stop people using it. We spent a happy morning chatting to our Hymer friends, then left after lunch. When we went to top up the water, as we did yesterday, we found the tap handle had been removed, and the proprietor of a small cantina declared it was his water, and we couldn't have any. No problem, most Greek towns seem to have public water taps, and we found one by the road at ????. A guy filling bottles said the water was so good he cycled 6 Km each day to collect it. And the tap had a 1/2” thread so we could use our hose.
Patra isn't far, so we drove up the coast to Kalogria, to look at free beach camping there, and it looks pretty good. There we met a Dutchman who is planning to bring his motorhome to England, to visit the Great Dorset Steam Fair. As we live only a few miles from it we were able to give him a fair bit of info. This a superb wetlands conservation area, very attractive, and some lovely trees.
We moved again, to try to get to the lighthouse at Cape Araxos, but instead we found ourselves in a restricted military area, so beat a hasty retreat. Access might have been possible, if we had taken a different turning, but the roads were getting very narrow.
Finally, a drive along the main road to Patra, and the port. There is on a motorway round Patra that seems to go on for ever, and the port exit is the last of 5 Patra exits. But then you drop into urban sprawl, some direction signs, and others you have to guess at. Getting into the port itself was largely guesswork, there being no information about access. Then, once in, and checked in, no guidance on where to park, or line up for boarding. It seemed to sort itself out, presumably because some people had been here before.
The port is surrounded by would be illegal immigrants, presumably Albanian, all trying to break into the port and smuggle themselves onto ferries. They climb over the fence with ease, and police patrols come and chase them out again. A Dutchman we spoke to said he saw one hide under a German motorhome, and called the police to evict him.. All this was happening just a few feet from where we first parked, by the ferry check-in office, so we were pleased to move to join a queue that was self forming (i.e. unorganised) at another part of the port.
Loading started at 2130, and lorries were being thoroughly searched before being allowed to board. An official demanded we let him in to check we had no stowaways. We were on board and plugged in by 2300, and showered and in bed before the ship sailed at midnight.
Fri 22nd Oct at sea
A nice flat calm day at sea, calling at Corfu at 0700, and Igmounenista at 0900. Internet access (by satellite) costs only €5 for 20 hours, although it can be painfully slow at times. There was a gorgeous sunset.
Sat 23rd Oct Venice
Arrived in Venice at1000 Greek time, 0900 Italian time. On the way in we passed a very fancy private yacht flying a white ensign. We were ashore within the hour, and drove 2 miles to the (VERY expensive) car park we left 6 weeks ago.
Into town, via the Venezia People Mover we used last time, lunch near the Rialto Bridge, and on to St Mark's Square, then along the waterfront to see the white ensigned yacht. It seems she can fly the white ensign because the owner is a (obviously very wealthy) member of the Royal Yacht Squadron, but they declined to say who the owner was.
Walking round Venice is rather like walking round a very large maze – very confusing and very tiring. And to my eye at least, all the canals, bridges and houses look pretty similar, and I walked back to the van mid afternoon to catch up on some missing cups of tea (getting lost on the way, of course!)
Sun 24th October Venice
Rosemary went into Venice alone – I've seen all I want to see of Venice, & I have some reading to catch up on. Rosemary on the other hand loves walking along every street available. She went in the Ducal Palace, but St Mark's was closed for a patronal festival. St Mark's Square was under water because of the extra high tide, so people walked on temporary raised walkways. The Venice Marathon was also taking place.
Rosemary got back about 5 pm, and we paid €53 for 31 hours parking. Our intention was to move to the aire further out from the city, because our 2009 book said it was only €4 per night. No trouble getting there, even though it was now dark, and raining, as the co-ordinates were in Sally satnav. However, the price turned out to be €10 per day, and if we stayed past midnight that's another €10 – another Venetian rip-off. So instead we consulted Sally, who found us an aire at Altavilla Vincentina, about 45 miles away. This was free, and had all the facilities needed by a motorhome, but we were pretty exhausted by the time we got there. It was heavy rain, dark, dazzled by headlights, and a convoluted route – but Sally took us straight to it. We wouldn't have attempted it without Sally.
Mon 25th October in transit through Switzerland
We pondered which route to take through the Alps – Brenner & Austria – the way we had come, or our usual route through the Gottard pass or tunnel & Switzerland. We don't much like the Brenner route, but is at a lower level and hence less likely to be affected by snow. We decided on Gottard, and although there was a little bit of snow on the Swiss side of the tunnel, that disappeared quickly as we dropped in altitude into Switzerland. The Swiss motorway vignette cost €36 (in Italy), and transit of Swizerland took about 3 ½ hours, exiting via Basle.. We stopped for lunch in a Swiss lay-by, to watch a Frenchman exercising every Frenchman's right to wee in public only 10 yards from a public toilet, before emptying his dogs near the picnic area. Merci monsieur – cochon!
Our target was the Rhine locks at Strasbourg, but that was rather ambitious, given the failing light and poor weather. In the event we found somewhere to wild camp on the French side of the Rhine, about 5 yards from the river so we can watch the and hear the Rhine barges battling up against the fast current. 344 miles today. A very useful spot, as it's also close to the road we often use through Nancy.
Tues 26th October France, Germany, Luxembourg & Belgium
By golly, that was a cold night! Awoke to a heavy frost – and we had our summer weight single duvet on. A gorgeous morning, mist curling off the Rhine into the sun. The barges looked like they were pushing through a river on fire.
We pushed along the small but excellent road on the French side of the Rhine, towards Strasbourg, looking for more good wild camping spots, and found two, with an even better view of the Rhine barges. We were surprised to drive past a nuclear power station, only a mile from where we spent the night. The countryside here is superb, despite the heavy industry on the Rhine. The factories (and power station) are fitted into the landscape superbly.
We were heading for Saarlouis, in Germany, where we know there is a good Real supermarket. We were keen to but some German white wine for Charlotte's wedding. The scenery all the way to Saarlouis is breathtaking, the autumn colours are spectacular, rolling hills, distant views, the lot. Well worth a return visit.
After buying lots of white wine at Saarlouis we headed for Luxembourg (for cheap fuel, only €1 per litre of diesel) and the route home. We got as far as an Aire at Redu, Belgium, before darkness overtook us. It didn't look far on the map, but in fact it was nearly 300 miles
Wed 27th October Almost there – Gravelines
Another bitterly cold morning, but grey and overcast as well. I managed to pick up a wifi connection for a short while before we left. We discarded Sally's original route to Gravelines, which used entirely motorway, instead taking her proffered alternative, taking us past Dinant, Beaumont, Valenciennes, to Lille, where picked up the usual route. This route was very pleasant, and most uncrowded and unhurried, with some lovely scenery. Much of it was the main road before the motorway was built. And for the first time in 2 months, got BBC Radio 4, on long wave. As long as Radio 4 is broadcasting all is right with the world!
At Lille we dropped into the city briefly to find a supermarket, but took fright and got Sally to get us out. However, shortly after Lille we took the exit for the Zone Commercial, the “Port du Lille”, where we found an enormous Auchun hypermarche. In a couple of hours we spent over £200, most of it on wine. 2 bottles of Famous Grouse whisky, only €18, and one of their gorgeous tarte au fraises. Oh, and king prawns for lunch. This is a useful shop, only 1 hour from Gravelines
The aire at Gravelines was much quieter than last time we saw it, and we had no trouble finding a space.
Thurs 27th October – last leg home
A nice morning. Walk into Gravelines for bread, and croissant. Then on the road, 16 miles to Calais car ferry. I had planned to fill up with cherap French diesel, but discovered there are is no fuel between Gravelines & Calais, except by going out searching for it. The port advertises free open access wifi, but in fact you have to buy access (but where, I've no idea!)
We had booked on the 1015 sailing, so were surprised when it sailed at 0945. We've had this before, when they change the sailing time after booking, but without telling anyone. Just shows you need to get to the port in plenty of time!
The sea was rather choppy, but there was little noticeable motion on the ship. We were ashore fairly quickly, and out of the port in no time at all. All the way up the M20 were signs warning of long delays on all parts of the M25. As we couldn't think of an alternative route that wasn't extremely tortuous, we carried on – and had our clearest transit of the M25 ever! And they wonder why people ignore motorway signs? We had a clear run to within 14 miles of home, when the traffic ground to a halt. Traffic coming the other way came in fits and spurts, and there was a helicopter overhead, so there had been an incident of some kind. After half a mile we turned off down a country lane to Chilmark, and got home to a mountain of mail, mostly bills :( - that's the disadvantage of credit cards!
Overall miles 3278
www.pippins.me.uk Page Last updated: 15 December 2010