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13 to 17 June 2017 – Milina and turning west…

Rosy-fingered dawn gave way to an intense morning sun as we wound our way up and down the mountains of the beautiful Pelion peninsula.  There are sweeping views of the clear blue water of the Pagasetic Gulf as you round the last few hairpins to sea level, and take the coast road to Milina. It is a village of narrow streets so we need to find a place to park from where we can find Rob and Rachel’s place on foot.  The place we find is right next to the beach, just about far enough off the road for safety in the shelter of a seafront building.  We have instructions to find the house which conclude:

“200 years up that road/concrete track is our place, two red tiled roofs with a white gate in the middle.”  Rob blames auto-correct for the distance, but atmospherically, it is just about right for the road….

milina walk to beach

Down the steps the other side of the white gate the two old stone buildings under the two red-tiled roofs face one side of a paved courtyard. On the other sides, a picturesque stone ruin Milina ruin and catand a half-tamed garden waiting to be transformed into a cool oasis with splashing water. Perfect.   milina garden

The courtyard has orange trees set into the flagstones which entangle their branches overhead to provide shade for eating, drinking, sitting, reading – all the quiet activities such surroundings invite.  I chose to sit there to eat apricots with yogurt and honey in the morning. Thank you Rob and Rachel.

Milina breakfast

The buildings are the ruins of an old olive press and it is the work of Rob and Rachel that has created this quiet haven.  One building was completely without a roof but now sports an amazing configuration of beams – built in the Albanian tradition apparently.

milina beams

The airiness of the white rooms and the metre thick walls kept us cool while we spent three nights enjoying the space of a house and garden after the tininess of the van – a whole bedroom, a truly amazing bathroom, a private garden and a lighting system we still have not quite figured out!   The first night we could not get the stove to work and just had to go out to eat:-)  At the beach-front Elia taverna we shared the best fava I have ever eaten followed by the best melanzani-type dish for me and cheesy-potatoey Piliortico (?) for Neil.  (I would describe it as a Greek version of tartiflette but google search has let me  down on this one.)  He enjoyed it.

milina meal neil

The village fronts the sea with a row of tavernas and the side streets have enough small grocery shops and bakers to meet the needs of the day.  And the days are HOT.  Swimming becomes a late afternoon activity as the sun begins to set, followed by a leisurely sundowner.  milina sunsetOne morning we go early and find a solitary sleeper on the beach in his bedroll.  As people arrive to swim he picks up his bed and walks back to his van – full of fruit and veg which he sets off to sell around the streets.  Looks like a nice work – I pursue one of my favourite activities – collecting sea-glass.me millina beachThe cooker now works – the trip switch was up instead of down (or vice versa) – so I cook on our last night to finish up the bacon and eggs we had had in the van for some time.  My fault for being so un-Greek in my repertoire – the hob objected and a startling crack came from under the pan.  Horror of horrors – I had somehow cracked the ceramic surface!  Mortifying to damage other people’s borrowed stuff!  (Follow up – many emails later and Rob’s local house-guru managed to source a replacement and arrange its installation in time for family holidays – thank goodness!)  The cat in the window was unmoved throughout.milina catIt came to 16th June and we were now on countdown to our ferry date on 20th.  My usual resources showed a real paucity of camper stops and campsites across country from Pelion to Patras and I wanted to see Delphi enroute. Stella said over seven hours drive to get to a campsite at Delphi and it was so hot we were reluctant to be any distance from the sea. Fortunately the ACSI book showed a couple of the campsites near Delphi had swimming pools, but seven hours is still waaay too far in a day. Finally looking in park4night I found a parking spot just back around the top of the gulf – but three hours drive on the windy roads.  It is a public beach just at the end of the road from Nea Anchialos – right on the sea with trees.

Nea Anchialos
What the photograph does not show is the line of empty plastic bottles half way up the shingle.  It looked and felt clean in the water – must be some effect of being at the top of a gulf where the wind pushes floating litter until it can go no further – at least this is not a turtle beach!  It became overcast and stormy in the evening with biggish waves crashing a couple of metres from our wheels – always a bit worrying. One other van had shown up but parked some way away from us.  Next morning was picture perfect in full shade from the tamarisks as it warmed up. We had a peaceful early  swim and a shower on the beach – cannot praise beach showers in remote places enough! One by one or two some older folk started appearing.  Eventually there were eight or nine of them swimming along  chatting as they went – seemed to be a swimming club of some sort.  I wonder if they go in in the winter!
It was a lovely spot for a last dally in the sea before we set off inland.
Nea Anchialos - me in sea
We had a long drive of four hours and twenty minutes ahead of us over some mountains, across a plain and over another mountain range to get to the campsite near Delphi.  We were avoiding the motorway this time.  I had picked out a questionable parking spot two-thirds of the way over just in case the hairpins became too much.  We did not need to worry – the roads were good.  We even got to see the views that we had missed over the mountains near Thermopylae as we retraced the road.  The questionable parking spot high on a mountainside came and went and, on closer inspection, the lane leading to it was indeed questionable! Fortunately the drive went smoothly and an early stop was not necessary.
Sitting on an outcrop in the foothills of Mount Parnassus Chrissa Camping shares the view over the olive groves to the Gulf of Corinth with Delphi itself.
Chrissa camping view
 As you can see, it was cloudy – but still hot.  The day before had seen serious downpours here and several pitches on the gently sloping terraces were unusable due to mud and debris having accumulated. It was largely empty though and we went for a swim despite the grey skies – what a view!  And all to ourselves!Chrissa camping pool viewIt rained some more as night drew on so no cooking outside, which we normally do, and yet again we were forced to eat in the local, on-site taverna:-) Lamb chops and chips again for me! Portia nestled damply in the trees below.
Chrissa portia 2
Tomorrow ancient Delphi – especially recommended by my mother – and on towards Patras.
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11 to 12 June – historical hot springs, phonetic food

via Thermopylae to Pelion
We awoke at Isthmia on 11th which is Neil’s birthday.  I had forgotten to bring a card but we would go out for a meal if possible.  The plan was to stay at a free overnight stop near the hot springs at Thermopyles in the pass where Leonidis and his betrayed few faced the might of Xerxes and his thousands. To get there meant crossing from the Peloponnese to the mainland via the bridge over the remarkable Corinth canal.  corinth canal
Having been considered since ancient times this six kilometre canal was not cut through the isthmus until the late 19th century.  It is at sea level at both ends so has no locks, effectively making the Pelopennese an island, and it provides a short cut from Adriatic to Aegean for shipping.  Apparently it is not used much for anything but tourist boats now, but is still an impressive sight.
It was a three or four hour drive, partly on motorway, and ended in a spectacular mountain crossing.  We were denied the spectacular view however due to the mist over the tops.  In fact it was overcast and a bit drizzly once down the other side as well.  It had never occurred to me that Thermopylae was so called due to hot springs – hot sulphuric water pours out from under the side of the mountain in several places, bubbling into pools in places or cascading down the rocks as a waterfall in others.  The hot springs are, remarkably,  undeveloped. There is a rather decrepit hotel that was abandoned as a commercial enterprise some years ago. It was thriving in 2000 when our copy of the Rough Guide was published but had been empty when peejays last reported in 2014.  At first glance it seemed to be back in use, albeit in a fairly tatty way, with clothes and bedding hanging over balconies to dry. We drove round the back to where the hot water steamed from base of the cliff and by good fortune had the rocky pool to ourselves for twenty minutes.

It was raining lightly at the time and a wallow in the hot water was a bizarre treat, notwithstanding the smell of sulphur that accompanied it – and clung lightly to our clothes afterwards.  Good for aches and pains apparently!
Walking back to the van it became clear that the hotel was not offering spa treatments to the aching anymore but was now occupied by refugees – officially or not was unclear. Not only was laundry hanging over the balconies but bedding, bicycles, household implements – everything too valuable to leave lying around outside.  Sad to say, being the only van there and, on the one hand, having lone men wandering around the muddy parking area clad only in their budgie snugglers, and on the other having groups of people hanging around with nothing to do, it did not feel totally comfortable as an overnight stopover.  The lone men were lorry drivers stopping at the side of the road for a dip the same as us, the weary families just waiting for something better to happen in their lives.  Feeling guilty at our probably unfair assumptions, but relieved at the same time, we made the decision to travel on a few miles to a nearby campsite.
Before that we paid homage at the magnificent monument to Leonidis erected on the very site of the battle, opposite the mound where the 297 heroes who died alongside him were buried.
The pass itself is no longer the obstacle to invasion it once was – formerly a narrow strip of land, a scant one hundred metres wide between mountain and sea, there are now four flat kilometres of farmland before you get to the sea.  Geomorphology seems to have decided to make it easier for any future invaders and spare the Spartans another heroic but doomed  stand.
thermo pass
Camping Venezuela is on the road that runs beside the beach, but the cool drizzly weather did not show it in its best light.
venezuala beach
It was pretty much still closed with only one other van and, later, a tiny tent occupied by a couple on a motorbike.  I remembered our camping trips of old in a tiny tent in the rain – always with a sincere prayer that it would not leak. But at least we always had a car to fall back on if push came to shove.  The beach was coarse sand with some silt as well, which always looks a bit dirty – and there were a lot of mild mannered stray dogs and puppies around.   Poor babies:-(
venez pups
I thought there was no taverna nearby for the birthday dinner but strolling along the beach we fell into conversation with our fellow campers, a cheerful young Greek couple from the tent. They pointed one out hiding behind some trees a couple of hundred yards away. venez tavernaVery simple, authentic food they said, as we conversed in Anglo-Greco-Italiano. They had eaten there the night before and were enthusiastic about what they had eaten  – phonetically, scored-val-yay with horta. When we got there the owner told us the menu choices were fish or meat and no-one spoke English to explain exactly what was what.  The owner phoned her daughter to come and talk to us and she whizzed up a few minutes later. Then it transpired that she had also met the young Greek couple on their walk and they had told her what we should eat: scored-val-yay with horta to start and a plate of small fishes to follow. Horta is very like spinach and both it and the scored-val-yay were delicious.  The owner came out and explained how to make the latter with a fair bit of mime and the help of ingredients from the shelf in the kitchen.  It seems it is white bread, without the crusts, soaked in oil, a bit of vinegar plus garlic and salt then pressed somehow into a loose paste. Definitely no food processor.  We chose fish and each had a plate of lightly fried sardines – with a squeeze of lemon a memorable birthday meal.
birthday dinner
The local strays come and look at you pleadingly but non-threateningly and gobble up the fish tails and bread. The owner shoos them away gently from time to time but they don’t go far.
venez dog
We didn’t swim from the silty beach the next day but made an early start for the longish trek past Volos onto the Pelion peninsula within striking distance of Milina.  We had now arranged to be there on 13th and keys would be waiting for us. This time we opted for motorway nearly all the way as there was no other obvious route that looked remotely passable.  Also the tolls had seemed cheap on the bits we had taken before.  This was to prove wrong – especially as motorhomes seem to be in quite a high class of vehicle tariff. Unlike the french peage system where you pass through gates to get on and then pay to get off, here there are  gates across the road at random places charging seemingly random prices to continue.  The first one at 1.30 euros was OK then we got into some pricier ones ending up totalling more than thirty euros for a couple of hours’ drive.   And you have to pay cash. Parts of the road were spectacular however swooping along the coast or over a mountain.
Volos is quite big and looked nice but we ploughed through (still not finding a data sim) to Camping Sikia at Kala Nera.  This is another campsite on a steep slope down to the beach with another steep and narrow access road. The manager comes out to greet you with a hefty chock in her hand which she wedges under your front wheel as you pause at reception – a habit clearly learned from past experience!  Together with shady camping spots on the terraces it has bungalows, apartments and an unobtrusive hotel on site as well.  We get a good spot on a shady terrace.  It is a pretty long walk to the pretty smart showers once you have actually figured out which way to go – more signage would not go amiss in this hilly mini-village! Down the slope to the beach:

it is a narrow shingle strip stretching around a small bay and the water is clear and cool.  Our campsite is on the steeper part of the bay and is adjacent to another which is on the flatter part and seems bit less sophisticated.   Side by side they front the beach and at the moment both have very few campers. In high season I can see there would be a fair amount of hot flesh jostling for space as the the size of the beach is clearly totally inadequate for the number of spaces both large campsites have on offer.

Tomorrow – one hour to Milina and three nights in a house.  Really looking forward to it after nearly a month in the van.

8 to 10 June 2017 – more history, more beaches, and an election

 via Sparta to the Argolid
By now we had realised we could spend endless weeks footling around the ruins, villages and beaches of the Peloponnese. Names from antiquity tumbled from the pages of the maps,Ancient regions guide-book and road signs; Sparta, Arcadia, Thermopylae, Mycenae, each calling us to loiter with the mythical shades amongst the fallen pillars and tumbled stones.  But…. we had a rough plan and it is difficult to abandon a plan, however sketchy, and there is always the possibility of next year (when there is not a heatwave).  So we decided to leave the third finger of the Peloponnese for another day and make a big leap across the Spartan valley, skirting Tripoli (Tripoli?  How did that get in there?) to a spot just around the end of the Gulf of Nafplio in the Argolid.  Yes – where Jason and his Argonauts came from!
Coming back to earth – today was election day in the UK and we wanted to keep an eye on our hastily arranged proxy votes – we needed a campsite with site-wide wifi so we could have Radio Four on all night.  Radio eats up gigabytes – a lesson we learned the hard way in Spain in February.  It is one of life’s great pleasures to drift in and out of consciousness and hear how the results are going without having to be fully alert!   So, reluctantly dragging ourselves away from the casual atmosphere at the Dimitrios beach, we headed for an ACSI campsite that promised shade and wifi for a modest fee.  It was a long day’s drive to Lefka beach, Vasari a few miles the other side of Nafplion.  We paid little attention to the port from which Jason set sail, other than to scour the shop fronts for a telephone shop that was open for business – something we still had not found – closed for lunch, 3; open, 0. The site is terraced down the steep slope to the sea.  The terraces are overhung with cloth, filling in the gaps where the sun would burn down between the trees as the sun moved around – the first time we have experienced  that. Lefka view
We pick a spot with a bit of a view that benefits from both tree and cloth shade and is close enough to Reception to get a signal.  The beach is pebbly, the water is the beautiful translucent turquoise we have come to expect and there are some rocky outcrops to make the swimming more interesting.  Lefka beach
We ate at the family-run taverna at the top of the slope. The two small fish I ate had probably been frolicking in the water beside me earlier on:-(  They were very good fried on the plate but made me work to separate their tender flesh from their tiny bones:-((
Lefka restaurant from beach
It rained heavily in the night and the cloth cover served to funnel it noisily into several big waterfalls rather than the usual all-over patter. The wifi signal was worryingly weak for streaming but artful positioning of the iBoost WiFi system magnified it and gave a constant signal that did not seem to pause to buffer all night. Surprisingly, not many fellow campers were tuned in to the overnight UK election results. Waking at one point I heard them going on about Labour’s amazing performance and dozed happily for an hour or so thinking they had done it, only to awake again as a commentator said something like “We must remember Labour has not actually won the election”  😦  Realising that Theresa May had done so badly was some consolation.
We stayed another night.  Neil was a bit worried about the VERY steep access drive. It is only short but hairpins up the campsite terraces straight out onto a tight, undercarriage-scraping junction with the main road.   The main problem – the drive is on the front wheels and most of the weight is on the back. The wheels have spun uselessly before on a steep gravel drive; that time Neil had needed to back up and take a run at it with me on the road above to stop any oncoming traffic.  Stopping for a run-up was not possible on this drive so Neil waited until it was completely clear as far as he could see before taking it at speed. The unseen van coming down the slope graciously ceded the lane as we roared round the bend! That is the rule apparently – those going up the hill have right of way. Glad he wasn’t ten seconds earlier though!
Mycenae and the tomb of Agamemnon
Today was scheduled to be a short drive across to Isthmia as we planned to spend some time at Mycenae – the hill-top palace of Agamemnon.  This is the place he called home and came back to after ten years fighting alongside Menelaus and Odysseus, and various Gods, outside (and then inside) Troy.  No sooner had his armour rattled to the ground in his bathroom than Clytemnestra, his wife, and Aegistheus, her lover, murdered him.  She was upset that he had thought it acceptable to sacrifice their daughter to the gods in exchange for providing favourable winds to Troy ten years previously.  Hmmm.  He was buried in the royal grave circle with a golden death mask nonetheless.  The mask was found attached to his skull – whether it is actually him is not certain.  But you too can gaze upon his face in the museum.
face of agamemnon
The site is a fortified hill town – walls surrounding a palace, temple and all the associated buildings needed for everyday life in the 12th century BC.  Mycenae - hill view
It has some amazing tombs. That hole behind the ropes is the roof of that of Aegistheus which has collapsed. Seen from the inside ….
MY inside aegis
There are altogether nine huge tholos (beehive) tombs.  Below is the entrance to that of Clytemnestra
My Neil clytem tomb
And a rather inadequate shot of the dome inside – superior quality to the rough stone of that of her lover.
my cly inside
Some are shaft graves inside the walls…
mycenae grave circle
Starting at the famous Lion Gate
My lion gate
we made it all the way to the top in the noon day sun… one of us wilting in the heat more than the other….Mycenae hot meI needed support going down because my smooth, flat soles were inclined to slip on the marble paving slabs on the paths – brought to a high shine by generations of feet.  If you go – wear good grippy trainers.   To show the height – you can see the many buses in the car park.
My view inc buses.jpg

Learning from our experience at Olympia that museums were not to be missed, we optimistically walked over to it – it’s a small one.  There was the hoped for air-con, but they were being very south european with it – lowering the temperature only to a stuffy 29.5 degrees! The exhibits were lovely – less huge statuary and more cheery votive offerings and jewellery.

Before long I was unable to fully appreciate the beautiful things on display because the heat was getting the better of me.  Heading for the exit I found a floor level air conditioning unit  and spent several minutes draped over it fearing heat stroke more than legionnaire’s disease.
Our destination for the night was a free parking spot on the sea at Isthmia.  It would have been fine – a strip of parking alongside a public beach at the edge of town.  Because it was Saturday though it was heaving with people enjoying the sea and a dive centre playing loud music.  There was no shade and, being in a small but bustling car park, no possibility of putting out the awning or chairs.  There was a campsite only a mile away so after a few hot minutes we moved on.  Isthmia camping is right on a lovely beach, under trees and with low hedges marking pitches.
They seemed rather unprepared for the season, although there were a few campers there already, and were a bit off-hand.  The wifi was poor, the facilities were uninspiring but perfectly adequate, apart from the lack of hot water for washing up – which always annoys Neil.  And they charged 22 euros even with the ACSI discount!  Having said that – it was a very nice place to stay and the beach was lovely. The clouds rolled in overnight promising cooler, if wetter, weather for the next day’s cultural outing.
isthmia beach

2 to 7 June 2017 – Continuing around the Peloponnese

Where to go…

Starting from a shameful position of complete ignorance, how to decide where to go? I had three main resources to draw on:  Ourtour’s blog and map, with useful information about the country, co-ordinates for many free stopovers and some campsites; Peejay’s Greek stopovers, a regularly updated database of free stopovers; and the ACSI campsite book for discount camping.  Not forgetting the venerable Rough Guide for a cultural fix. Starting from Patras the Peloponnese is ahead of us and we have one fixed point: a village in the Pelion peninsula – some distance from the Peloponnese as it happened – where a friend, a former colleague, was renovating a ruined olive press.

Labelled map

Map adapted from Wikipedia – thank you!

Like all of mainland Greece it’s not a place I know anything about but if Rob had thought it a good place to renovate a ruin for family holidays, then it must be pretty wonderful.  There is a recommended campsite just outside the village so that provided a destination – and the possibility of saying Hello after many years.

Timing our travels to meet the other fixed point, the date of the return sailing, meant we needed to get a feel for distances and timings.  I had tried to get an open return ticket but the on-line booking service said to pick a date for booking purposes then get the ticket marked as open when checking in.  When checking in I was told just to ring before the return date chosen and if there was a space we could change.  Together with the general chaos and lack of information surrounding the whole ferry thing, this arrangement did not inspire confidence.  Also we were warned that the season was getting underway and space may be scarce at short notice. We chose 20th June. I did  not want to be there much later anyway as the temperatures would be getting well up by then.
Picking an approximate route that looped us across the fingers of the Peloponnese in time to get to Milina for a few days and leave plenty of time to get back, we headed south east. koroni bestThe ancient port of Koroni sits below a Venetian fort towards the tip of the south-west peninsula of the Peloponnese.  From Kalo Nero we crossed the mountains from the east coast of Messenia to the west, bypassing Kalamata (where the olives come from) and Ancient Messene (through sheer ignorance).   The roads proved a lot less fearsome than they appeared on the map and had great views.  Beyond Messini (the new one) fruit and vegetable stalls dotted the roadside – a sack of oranges made its way into the back of the van (4 Euros) together with fragrant tomatoes and courgettes.  In the book Camping Koroni claims to be fifty metres from the sea without mentioning they are all vertical.  There were steps and a path down the (small:-) cliff to a Taverna right by the sea.  The beach was sandy and it was quite a walk to get in above your knees – nice though, with the old town just across the water.  It was a pleasant enough site with plenty of shade but I did not take to the high hedges around the pitches – seemed to make it a bit airless after the openness and direct access to the sea of Kalo Nero. The swimming pool was a bonus.  koroni poolIt was Hot. At about five o’clock we braved the heat and tackled the steep streets of the charming old town. They took their toll!koroni streetRefreshing ourselves with a rather sophisticated (and expensive ) ice cream on the  harbour front we also yielded to the honeyed blandishments of the mini-baklava in one of the boutique bakeries. A small, well wrapped, selection went into the back-pack for future delectation.  The town seems to be well endowed with hardware shops for no obvious reason, none of which had the sort of mat for the outside of the van we had realised was needed – especially on a sandy beach. Some of them retain an old-fashioned look. koroni shop
Moving ever eastwards the next stop was half way down the peninsula opposite, across the Gulf of Messinia, the Mani.  From OurTour I had learnt that an author I admire, Patrick Leigh Fermor, had written a book many years ago about the area, Mani; Travels in the Southern Peloponnese. maniI downloaded it and started to read – awe-inspiring.  With his wife he crossed the Taygetus mountain range, the spine of the rugged and remote Mani, on foot and discovered the inaccessibility of the region and the hospitality of the people.  He  stopped and conversed with people in isolated villages along the way and wrote “There are times in Greece when you feel you could live with as little forethought about food as Elijah; meals appear as though laid at one’s elbow by ravens”. This echoes Neil’s childhood memories at the home of a greek school friend many years ago: lamb chops and potatoes fried in olive oil would invariably materialise in front of them not long after each expansive welcome from his mother.   Since then I have discovered that Leigh Fermor lived to 96 years of age, only dying in June 2011 at his home in Kardamyli, a small town we were about to drive through obliviously:-(
Our destination after our two days in Koroni was Camping Kalogoria in Stoupa. This small town has taken the brunt of the tourist development that by-passed the beachless Kardamyli. It is tourism of a pretty low key variety but first sight of the rows of beach umbrellas disheartens. This campsite is 100 metres from the sea – only some of them downhill! stoupa beach eveningThe pitches are not marked out so it is airy and spacious – judicious use of the compass and we maximise the shade from the tall pines. stoupa pitch

There are few other campers but it is a bank holiday apparently which accounts for the crowds on the beach.  There is a small scrubby headland to one side which we clamber over to see if there is a quieter spot.  There is but it is a rocky scramble down to the welcoming eau-de-nil water washing over the rocks below.  It is beautiful, and only the fish share our swim.

That evening we walk into the main part of town and find a second larger beach and a selection of tavernas that make choosing difficult.
stoupa tavernaWe manage though and find a much wider range of dishes on the menu.  Neil has been waiting to find chicken in the oven with potatoes – soft, garlicky and oily – and I go for kleftiko – stolen meat – cooked in paper with vegetables – meltingly soft.  And still only about €28 with tzatziki starter and wine.
We decide to stay a few days and I settle down for a blog with site-wide wifi and full extension lead functionality.  This is one thing to remember to pack – a four gang extension lead to take full advantage of being on a generous hook up.  Especially at €19.50 a night – this site is no longer ACSI but gave us a bit of an off-season discount anyway.
Next day the beach is quieter so we slide into the water at one side.  There is a something odd about the water here – the top several inches are cold – too cold – but underneath it is fine.  If you swim over to the other side of the bay the water is just normal – can only guess there is a river that flows icily from the mountain top on this side and overlies the warmer salt water beneath. The swimming is good – Neil has always been able to swim underwater with his eyes open and see what is what on the sea floor.  I can’t do this – it isn’t painful but sort of irritating.  I have my snorkel but find it tight on the forehead.  My  small gym-pool goggles are lurking in the bottom of the beach bag so I give them a go – it’s a miracle – I can see. Now I too can swim without worrying about colliding with a rock or something unspeakable in a crevice grabbing my leg!
After three nights we tear ourselves away from this comfortable spot and drive over the Taygetus to the other side of the peninsula.  Again the roads are not as difficult as feared – not difficult at all in terms of narrowness or bad surfaces – just the effort of steering around hairpins without being distracted at an inconvenient point by the phenomenal views!  Our destination is the beach  a few kilometres north of Gyfion with the wreck of the Dimitrios. It’s another free parking for motorhomes and, by evening, several are lurking behind the tamarisks.  wreck beach general view
 We have a great night view – the sea is just beyond the dune –
wreck beach night view
and a great morning view from my berth.
Wreck beach morning
There is no village or anything nearby apart from a taverna at the side of the bay which we don’t use, and a beach shower which we do. What a civilised thing it is to put a shower on the beach. And what a treat to use it in the sunshine after a swim!
Neil goes to photograph the ill-fated Dimitrios and chats with a professional photographer who tells him it is one of the  most photographed wrecks in the world and suggests where to shoot from.  Version 2I wander out later and find a newly married couple in their wedding clothes posing for their wedding photographs.  It makes for some great shots but I can’t help thinking it is tempting fate to use a shipwreck as a backdrop for a new marriage!

29 May to 2 June – finally in Greece

The chaos of embarkation was not repeated for disembarkation at Patras because many vehicles had left the boat in Igoumenitsia four hours previously, leaving plenty of manoeuvering space below decks. We drove straight off and turned onto the wrong road at the first junction – well, not wrong, alternative.  Instead of the wide New National Road described in the book we were directed onto the old road which winds through all the small and narrow towns on the eleven mile journey.  Good start in a new country. Thanks Stella.
We chose the campsite at Kato Alissos for its proximity to Patras and because it is right on the sea and is in the ACSI book – 17 euros.  Reception thought we may prefer a sunny spot as it had rained and thundered for the previous several days.  AllissosSince it was now quite late in the day, we decided to stay a couple of days to consider a route and hot weather was forecast so we picked a shady one anyway.  This far south and east we cannot get a  signal so there is no satellite-shade conflict! Our great relief at being safely ensconced in a new country had coloured our view of the site.  Next day we realised it was actually a bit decrepit – not in a really bad way but tattier than many around the edges and money clearly needs spending.  And the beach could do with a bit of love and attention lavishing upon it – erosion by the sea and the economy, has resulted in some decay.
Allissos beach
There was a nice spot for swimming at one side, the water a clear, pale translucent turquoise and with a view of the elegant Rio-Antirrio suspension bridge in the hazy distance.    Despite the frayed edges, it was still a good shady site with perfectly usable and clean facilities and more hot water than you could shake a stick at. They have an attractive restaurant under a huge olive tree overlooking the sea and the sunset.
Alissos olive tree
They had not spared the garlic in the  tzatziki and the lamb chops and chips were excellent.  It is obviously mostly used as a first or last overnight stop for travellers on the Patras ferries as vans came and went at odd hours for a campsite but no doubt matching the timetable of the various ferry routes.
Reading the old Rough Guide I finally and shamefully understand that the Peloponnese is the region containing many of the locations and actions of the heroic figures of the classic Greek period.  Last year, coincidentally, I had decided to read some of the classics of the ancient world and started with Homer’s Illiad and later, after recovering the will to tackle more blank verse in translation, the Odyssey. At last the names, places and landscape began to tie up.  Our next overnight stop was a mere two hours drive way and between here and there, in the mountains, was Olympia – an ancient sanctuary with temples to Zeus and Hera it is the birthplace of the Olympic Games. What a place it is.   Abandoned and destroyed as pagan by decree of a later Christian Roman emperor and then finished off by at least two earthquakes,  columns and stone blocks are scattered across several acres of wooded valley.
Olympia 1
The various buildings are identifiable by the lower courses of stone walls and pediments together with information panels with plans, diagrams and even mock ups of the originals.  The buildings were well described by writers and poets in antiquity so can be visualised in some detail.  There is an atmosphere very evocative of things immortal and mythological.
collumns olympia
Every four years the Olympic flame is kindled at the remaining stones of Hera’s altar. And there at the edge of the extensive site is the stadium where the first one hundred metres (approx) was run in the eighth century BC and every four years thereafter for the next twelve hundred years. Spectators sat on the embankments at either side with proper stone terraces for the VIPS.
neil at oympia
Neil went for a fast getaway – in the wrong direction as it happens but otherwise it would just be a picture of his bottom.
It was hot. We had arrived not long after noon and spent a couple of hours wandering the site.  The site has been grown through by tall trees offering shelter but the heat of the day was winning against my ability to take it all in.  me knackeredSo weary and hot were we that we almost decided against the walk to the museum – what a mistake that would have been! The prospect of a cafe and a cold drink tipped the balance and we sweated the heat-blasted few hundred yards to the cool, cool courtyard to find the cafe was closed:-( Mercifully the drinks machine was working and we had the necessary coins. Thanks be to Bacchus!  Two freezing lemonades later we were ready to face the exhibits.  The finds from the excavation of the site and the statuary are breathtaking. I’ve seen ancient statues and friezes in museums in the UK of course, but the size, quantity and quality of those broken figures and their warlike accoutrements right there in situ was an experience of a different sort.
battered freize
There are captivating displays of of votive offerings in the form of miniature stylised figures of people and animals. votive offerings
There are the actual shields and helmets worn by the warriors up to three thousand years ago.  helmets at olympiaBoth moving and amazing. If you can, go.  But don’t pose by the outsize statues of the male nudes – as so many visitors seem inclined to do – the caretakers don’t like it.
We found the shorter path back to the car park which took us through the high street of the modern village with its tourist shops. Eschewing fridge magnets of ladies in white robes holding torches we found the one book shop selling maps of a usable scale.  1:1,000,000 in a road atlas of Europe does not work for me! 1:200,000 is enough to navigate by. Any roads too small to appear at that scale are likely to be roads we should be avoiding in our portly van in any case.  They are sheet maps so a bit ungainly in the passenger seat but of the unrippable sort so should at least last the trip. I was sure the price was €6.80 but the bill came to €17.20 so maybe it was €8.60. The man did carefully put a sticker for his shop where the price was and I have not yet peeled it off to see if I had proved more rippable than the maps. Sometimes the challenge is just not worth it:-(
Moving on to find a beach…
There is a place called Sougia on the shores of the wine dark Libyan sea, on the south coast of Crete, to which we have returned time after time. A village situated at the end of a valley it spreads itself unassumingly around the middle of the bay and cannot be expanded due to the unexcavated remains of an ancient port alongside.  Along the sea front it has a run of tavernas under the ancient tamarisks and there you can also find modest rooms in shady, fragrant gardens. At the east end the village peters out into a rough track that curves on beside the beach to the cliffs at the far end. Under a tamarisk tree there is often parked a camper van with lengths of cloth suspended for shade and a water bag hanging up to heat in the sun.  This is probably the image that first seeded the idea to find a beach to park by in Greece.  An hour later, in Kalo Nero,  we found a place to rest our wheels by the sea. In the shade of a row of tamarisk trees and mere feet from the sea – a view to travel a long way for and an ocean made for a cool, cool swim.
Calo Nero
It was close to fulfilling the image we had conceived.  The beach was  mostly small pebbles and the water the same pale, translucent turquoise of before – a colour we would become used to. The beach shower meant we used little of our on-board water, even managing a quick hair wash with shampoo once the salt of several swims had started making my hair a bit too crispy. We were not alone. At least ten other vans had pointed their windscreens at the sea but there was space enough for all. The parking is a couple of hundred yards from the row of tavernas along the seafront of the village, one of which we ate in that night. I had my favourite, fish soup, and was not disappointed; Neil had his, melanzane, and was well pleased.
me at K nero cut
We spent two and a half days swimming and blogging in the shade.  (The 3 roaming sim was working well intermittently but we still wanted to get hold of a Greek sim for better connectivity.) Why did we not stay longer?  We had food, water, solar power – but there is no place to empty the toilet.  It should last three days but we start getting a bit nervous after two: travelling with a toilet is brilliant but has its limitations.

28 to 29 May 2017 – sailing down the Adriatic to the Ionian Sea

Our time at Camping Ramazotti was one of cool relief, lazing around in the shade, swimming a few times a day, and generally not wanting to move on. It was still unnaturally hot for May – a heatwave keeping the daytime temperature around 30 degrees.

Ramozotti beach 1

The campsite backed onto a long, long stretch of sandy beach, the restaurant had spaghetti vongole on the menu – a dish I love for the melody of the name as much as the taste. A smart German van arrived beside us and we struck up conversation with Heike and Hermann. Their trip was more fixed than ours as they had not quite retired and had a four week itinerary planned. Their knowledge of the sites they wanted to see made me realise how little research I had done on anything other than places to stay and inspired me finally to tackle the ancient Rough Guide I had found at home and brought along.  Too many renowned archaeological sites to limit ourselves to beaches.

Despite being in full laze mode we did finally get the bikes down. I may not have mentioned that having carted them all around France for only one ride last summer we did not take them to Spain over the winter. We should have though. The Los Pinos campsite was a forty minute walk along the beautiful coastal path to the town of Denia for the nearest shopping. Then there were regular buses back to the top of the road. The path was perfect for winging along on a bike – even more perfect for an e-bike! Yes, whilst at home we had researched and bought ourselves a couple of pedal-assisted electric bikes.  Better to get a bit of a workout with some battery power involved than to get no workout because the effort always seems too much.

e-bikes

Here they are – two Gtech ebikes.  They are pedal-assist which means they only help when you pedal, not like a mo-ped with a throttle and gearing, and they adjust to your effort up to the legal maximum of 15mph.  Clever.  Apparently the ones with throttles and gears are likely to lose their classification as bicycles before long.  These are fun to ride and take the pain out of the operation.  We pedalled into the village one day for bread and stuff to make insect bites stop stinging and went back again the next day to find it closed. So, even in the heat of the day, we continued along the cycle route to the other Lido a few kilometres away – easy peasy – and with a cool self-generated breeze. The gelataria was open so we rewarded ourselves appropriately. Then back again feeling very virtuous. My workout app (which only recorded only a meagre two thirds of the trip because I forgot to turn it on) told me I had done 5.81 kilometres at an average speed of 10 km/h and burnt 233 calories. Probably still a few burn to negate the ice cream (one scoop). Especially as the app did not know it was an e-bike:-)

Thoughts turned to Greece – we planned, we booked. A ferry from Ancona on Sunday 28th and the day before that a move one stop closer to minimise missing-the-boat anxieties. After five one-nighters in camperstops on the way though we were reluctant to move. Stella revealed the port was only 80 miles away and it was motorway all the way for a 15.30 check-in – in theory only a couple of hours away. There was no real need for an interim stop – so we spent another day in and by the sea. Only when we were leaving, good and early, did the appalling state of the roads in northern Italy reveal the damage it had inflicted on Portia’s parts:-( We trundled along the campsite track dismissing the rumbling noise from the back of the van as road noise.  It wasn’t though – the bit of greypipe plumbing for draining the grey water tank, whose grip on the underside of the van had always seemed a bit shaky, had been dragging on the ground and then fell off just as we left the campsite – dumping our little remaining grey water all over the lane.  Fortunately a passing camper pointed this out and there were the tap, the pipe and its bracket lying in the road 100 yards back. Why did this have to happen when we were already feeling the pressure of getting somewhere on time?   Neil cursed his way round the block and back to the campsite where the very obliging manager found us four screws to replace the ones rattled loose along the way, and Neil was able to wedge the pipe back in a reasonably secure way.  Unsettled but, amazingly, only twenty minutes behind schedule, we did a quick and stressed shop at Lidl and took some money out, fearing cards would not be accepted everywhere in Greece. (This proved wrong.) The anxiety wound up a notch when the first garage we tried refused to sell us any LPG – the guy claiming that the pressure used for powering vehicles was a different from that powering the cucina. We know this is not true but fridges in hot weather are a bit greedy, so it mattered quite a lot.  Bugger. The next service station along just filled it up and nothing exploded. Ah well.

A few more miles and – phew – the check in, at least two hours early. There were Heike and Hermann who had taken the slow road shortly before our problem with the pipework. Too soon to relax though as it is not clear where to go to board. You are given a gate number but there is no indication of where the gate is and there are no calls to board.  Turns out it is not on the same site and a few more roads need navigating. Thank goodness for helpful and knowledgeable fellow travellers who explain it all once they see you looking lost and anxious.

Still too jumpy to wait anywhere else, even in the shade, we went straight to the parking place on the harbourside  and sat in the blasting sun for a few hours chatting with other moho hopefuls and trying to keep cool. A sea breeze helped. Here’s piece of useful information – ferry times are a bit approximate here – we got away about two hours late. The unloading and loading process is an unbelievable chaos of huge trucks, vans, mohos, motorbikes and people navigating around each other in the parking lot and the hangar-like space of the vehicle deck. Health and Safety? I don’t think so! Men with whistles beckoned and gestured ferociously to fit vehicles between struts and under beams with amazing precison.   “They’re wankers” was the considered judgement of a regular british van driver next to us after being shunted into a space that looked severarl inches narrower than his van and trailer.
Now 22 hours to unwind on the ferry. me on ferryWe had a cabin although we had hoped to use the “camping on board” facility where you stay in your van on the open deck of the ship (but with access to showers, toilets and restaurants).  This is cheaper than getting a cabin and sounded fun.  Due to our late booking it was not available and the other line (Minoan) offers an “All inclusive camping on board” ticket.  This gets you an inside en suite cabin and thirty per cent discount in the restaurants.  Not sure where the “camping part comes in. I had thought of trying to upgrade to an outside cabin but the various hassles of the day meant we were just grateful to be on board at all.  The inside cabin was pleasant. It had two berths rather than bunks so no ladder climbing needed – Neil was suitably grateful – and meant it was a bit wider than the Hull-Zeebrugge cheaper cabins. Not realising that we should have collected discount vouchers from reception on boarding we headed for the restaurant and picked up unexpectedly huge portions of pasticcio and salad. The nice man on the till gave us the discount anyway and advised us to get our vouchers for breakfast.   Hermann and Heike rushed in just as we were leaving – now they were looking a bit stressed:-( They were disembarking at Igoumenitsa, four hours before Patras, so had waited all this time and been one of the last five vehicles loaded, and had struggled to find a power point – none of the loading staff give any information. Barely had they showered off the heat of the day when they heard the announcement that the restaurant was closing:-(

Stuffed with food and wine an early night was needed, made a bit later by losing an hour to Greek time, a comfortable bed, then most of a day to watch the Balkan coast slip by from the open top leisure deck – complete with empty swimming pool, bar and shade. A good place to watch a misty blue Albania float  by.

Albania

Email addresses were exchanged with Heike and Hermann and we hope to see them on the way back – coincidentally on the same sailing as us!cropped-snails-poor.jpg

22 to 28 May 2017 – racing across northern Italy

Because it was getting hot..

Coming down from the mountains it got hotter and hotter – the Po valley is a long flat part of Italy and when it gets hot, it gets HOT. This is fine as long as we are driving along with the air-con on, but very draining once you stop in a sun-blasted aire.  Judging from a tiny sample, the provision of public shade is not as widespread as it seems to be in France.  The aires are not as well signposted and often seem to be in car parks in town centres – nice and sunny!   My unfamiliarity with the Sostas book and difficulty with plethora of GPS co-ordinates had me reaching for another resource – OurTour’s invaluable map of their own stopping places.  They took the route over the Col de Larche and then across Italy, so I converted their decimal co-ordinates to Stell’s preferred format and followed in their wheel tracks. Thanks Ju and Jay and a big woof to Charlie.

Stella showed a good route along an A road road running parallel to the toll road all the way to a precision location in Asti (yes, where the spumante  comes from! (Other regional wines are available.)).  We were trying to be economical by avoiding the toll roads.  Never again in Italy!  The road surface was appalling – broken and potholed – Portia was rattled to her cogs and we were shaken and jolted.   The amount saved on tolls would never cover the repair bill for joint tightening and nut and bolt replacement! I guess the years of financial austerity imposed by the European Commission, the IMF and the banks are taking their toll.  We eventually rattled into the car park designated as an aire in the big, big, city square at Asti.  The site itself is not picturesque but the location is terrific – a short walk to the tourist office, the many eateries in the arcades and the historic sights.  A bit a of shade from the merciless 30 heat would have been be good too:-(Asti carpark

The TO provided a map and guidance so we headed straight to the café area for our first meal out.  Neil attacked a mega bruschetta and I had a Salad Niçoise – I like to stay local in my food choices.

Asti lunch

A couple of icy menthe á l’eaus (for want of knowing what they drink in Italy when it is hot) and we felt up to tackling a few sights.  Only the churches are open on Mondays so we dawdled in the peaceful cool of Saint Secondo until it was no longer seemly. Then back to the oven that Portia had become and quickly out again over the road to the park to read and plan until the evening cool.

Asti park.jpg

A bit of a heatwave was forecast so two decisions were made that evening: firstly, to race across the Po valley to the Adriatic, and secondly, to do it on the motorway! The urge to swim was taking over all good resolutions about culture and the like. This was a shame because every possible route resonated with references to Shakespeare, fashion, wine or something culinary: we had stayed in Asti but drank no Spumante, we whisked past Parma with never a morsel of ham, saw Milano sign posted to the north without rethinking our wardrobes and headed for Ravenna which I am sure has some Shakespearean connection but I can’t quite remember what. The consoling thought is that we can always come again (inshallah)  and come a few weeks earlier in the year.

Only one stop would be needed before the campsite near Ravenna and that was the  private sosta in Fontanellato.  Mere minutes from the motorway it is cunningly placed under an array of solar panels.  Clever – protection from the sun whilst also profiting from its energy – feels like revenge! The aire itself is fully automatic: barriers which open to let you in when you  take a ticket and let you out when you present some money.   Would be helpful to know in advance how much they were going to demand beforehand.  It was ten euros but one would-be camper was getting a bit exercised about it. There were some nice clean toilets as well as the usual  services, so definitely worth the outlay.

Fontanellato

The town of Fontanellato itself is an attractive, historic spot with a fortress dating back to the 15th century. It is   a moated fort in the middle of town, surrounded by a quadrangle of  ancient arcaded buildings now housing  cool and shady tables for bars (beers were taken) and gelateria (ice creams were not for some reason). There was also an optician who took at least fifteen minutes to replace the nose pads on Neil’s prescription sun glasses for three euros.  And I helped myself to a sherbet lemon from the bowl of sweets on offer while you waited. Can’t get nasty at that now can you?

Buoyed by the thought of a swim in the sea we raced down the toll road on cruise control at fifty mph to a place called Camping Ramazotti at the Lido di Dante near Ravenna.  There was also a Lido Adriano just a couple of kilometres away and the road signs pointed to the two Lidi.  First Italian grammar lesson – the plural for Lido (meaning shore or beach) is Lidi . Not to be confused with Lidl one of which was also nearby! Hurrah! Ramazotti  is an ACSI campsite and spreads itself over many acres beside the beach.  ACSI describes it as basic.  I would beg to differ and call it unsophisticated – no electronic doors to the facilities here  – no doors  at all in fact except on the toilet and shower cubicles themselves, and roofs only where needed.  But all clean and working well.

Ramazotti pitch

There is shade if you seek out the bigger trees and employ your compass skills, and plenty of space for the pitches. The sea is just at the back there – through a gate and you are on the beach – miles of sand and a view of Rimini with its echoes of seventies glamour in the distance.

19 to 21 May – out of France and into Italy

Which way to go?

There are a few options for crossing the Alps from France to Italy. The further south you go the lower the mountains become but the busier it gets. The northernmost crossings involve expensive tunnels and toll roads. So we opted for one in the middle, the one that that takes Briançon as the point of departure and goes over the mountains the col at Montgenevre – apparently there is an aire at the top for those with plenty of gas for central heating!

Packing a van is quite a stressful process, especially when closing the house up as well.  Not so bad in York as we have house sitters looking after the house, but in France everything has to be emptied, turned off, made safe – I have been known to leave fruit in the fruit bowl before now.  It dehydrated rather than liquifying I’m pleased to say and there were no angry swarms of wasps and flies awaiting our return.

Being a bit unwell a leisurely pack and unhurried start were needed – therefore we would not go far that day.  “All the Aires” offered a pleasant sounding spot at Prisée near Macon – still in Burgundy and clearly they were expecting us!Prisee snails

Since its last visit from the inspectors the aire had been newly and beautifully done up: positioned alongside a vigneron it was ornamented with roses and other shrubs around neatly defined bays. Free tokens for water were available in the vigneron shop (good move) so naturally we felt obliged to stock up whilst in there.  Rosé fizz and five litres of Macon rouge found their way into the laden van.Prisee

So far so good but, the best laid plans of mice and men…..  Already anxious about the crossing – we had seen videos showing it was narrow and winding – a diversion sign was a bit alarming.  It appeared long before the the turnoff for the mountains and indicated the road was closed just before the pass and a very long detour around two sides of a triangle was offered. It was already pretty mountainous and few through roads are actually available.  A quick consultation of the map showed it would be quicker to continue south and take the next middle route over.  This took off from Barcelonette and crossed at the Col de Larche.   Another quick consultation of the books and a destination for the additional night in France was identified.  Despite the ominous name, I  selected an aire at Corps near Gap.  This was a less attractive spot in a sort of car park-come-municipal vehicle park – but lovely mountain sunset views nonetheless (if you craned your neck a bit).Corps sunset

There is a second aire there up a bit of a hill and at least two motorhomes just spent the night in the town square car park.

Heating needed – will we run out of gas?

Both nights in France were cold and we needed the heating on.  Why were we not concerned about running out of gas as we were in Spain in the winter?  Why were we not worried about the necessity of acquiring an Italian gas bottle and all the associated pipes, regulators and adaptors? Because we had fitted an LPG tank whilst back in the UK. LPG adaptorsHurrah! Refillable gas at petrol stations in all (most) European countries (apparently Finland does not have it). All you need is a set of adaptors for the different national pumps! Of course you do – a recent fuel type, widely promoted on ecological grounds but still not standardised across co-operating countries! Three adaptors are provided with the installation in a nice little bag and these cover the whole of the EU, so clearly some standardisation efforts have been partially successful!

The work was done by Autogas 2000 just outside Thirsk, whom we can strongly recommend.  We could have had a larger tank slung under the chassis but it would have meant cutting into one of the struts holding up the habitation body.  Not a problem it seems but maybe adversely affecting the warranty.  What doesn’t?  The alternative, a external storagepermanently plumbed-in 14kg tank in the existing gas locker with an external filler point in the skirt. This was a smaller capacity than we had hoped for and partly took up the space in the gas locker which we had hoped to use as a modest external storage space as we have none.  We preferred the latter option though and there was still usable space for outside type stuff – the electricals, the levelling blocks, toilet chemicals, hose pipe, watering can etc. It was also half the price of the more major installation which was an unexpected bonus. The thought that we can just refill at will is bliss, although a bit anxiety provoking until we have tried it in anger in foreign lands.

Onwards and upwards

The road through the col looked a bit fearsome on the map – so twisty they couldn’t deliniate them all on the map – but it wasn’t too bad at all. Portia channelled her inner mountain goat and swung nimbly around the hairpins, ignoring the sheer drops.  Two lanes for the most part but a certain absence of white lineage in places, especially around the hairpins.  Lakes appeared in the valleys, snow shone in the hollows by the road, despite the sunshine, and the peaks towered white in true alpine fashion.

Alpine view

There was a border post at the col – two Italian Carabinieri stood and chatted to passers by.  We nipped into the car park from the French side for a photo-op then out the other side into Italy without troubling them at all.snowy col de larche.jpg

So there we were.  In Italy with a whole new set of books in a whole new language that neither of us can speak:-(  The Aree de Sosta book is supposed to be the equivalent of the All the Aires books for GPS converterFrance and Spain but is totally different: the maps are poor and the layout is confusing in the extreme.  And it is written in Italian, which is fair enough.  I won’t even start on the mindboggling number of standards for expressing geographical co-ordinates, but each book and website, and Stella, seem to use a different one! And each converter offers a subset of those available.  I now have a converter that copes with five – but I don’t understand the fifth!

Three or four aires are marked on the road down from the mountains but, we had been warned, that signs for them can be a bit hit and miss.  We missed the first one and pulled into the second rather tentatively as it looked like a rather ramshackle car park beside a café. Googlemaps seemed to show us as being in the right place though so we parked up and had a stroll around.  The toilets were truly disgusting and the sign that seemed to be addressed to motorhomers was a stained and crumpled piece of paper that we chose to ignore.  This was a mistake as it turned out. Closer examination of the Googlemaps image showed several mohos parked the other side of the café so later in the evening, after all but a solitary campervan had left, we moved around and joined it.  It had felt decidedly isolated so another camper was welcome.  That was when we spotted the electric power points on posts.  Locked! you had to go into the café to pay and get one unlocked.  And the café was now closed. The stained and crumpled piece of paper was saying you could stay with electricity for 7 euros.  Ah well – we had plenty of gas! And it was a lovely spot with a rushing stream only feet from our door.

Argentera, Italy.jpg

The aire at Argentera with added Neil and more of the view.

Argentera view.jpg

 

Early May 2017 – Heading off on a long trip

First to France – as usual
Since getting back from Spain/France in mid-March we had worked out a plan of sorts.  I am not so fond of hot sunny weather – once the mercury gets close to 30 I start to get scarily hot and prickly and red-faced.  Neil loves it even though he too heads for the shade whenever possible.  The other factor is the desire to go back to Greece – pre-van Crete used to be our destination in early June.  It will have to be the mainland this year as taking the van to Crete may be a step too far!  Even getting to the mainland will be costly because it requires a ferry crossing from Italy.  True, there is a route driving south through the Balkans (also on our agenda for another trip) but there is an Albania-shaped obstacle just before you get there. A few commited motorhomers have tackled that route but it is still a bit of an unknown and insurance can be problematic.

I had vetoed Greece any later than mid-June due to likely heat but we needed a reasonable spell of time there to make the expensive ferry crossing worthwhile.   Working back from that we needed to be in Ancona for the ferry towards the end of May, leaving France about ten days before that and having at least two weeks to straighten out the fermette on the way.  That meant we should have left towards the end of April.  Which we didn’t for one reason and another. But at least an early spring meant I saw my lovely miniature acers come into full leaf.

Yet again the economical option of driving to Folkestone to get the ferry was abandoned and the Hull-Zeebrugge crossing was booked for 6 May.  It is not actually as profligate as it seems if you count the fuel cost, overnight camping and meals on the road to go the other way – and, most importantly,  it removes the unpredictability and anxiety of a 270 mile drive to make a deadline. And we prefer it!

After an otherwise healthy winter Neil came down with shingles (no picture) as soon as we got back to York – a really vicious, painful episode of the virus that lasted a full six weeks – and has not fully gone yet nearly three months later!  So we kept dithering about picking a date to leave. Then, just after booking the ferry, we both came down with fearsome colds:-(  With Neil still full of it and me starting it with a complete loss of my voice we packed up and set off.

Being summer we did only one overnight on the road in France at a place called EsternayEsternay.  It was a wet, grey day and I was so full of cold I am not sure I ventured outside the van and have only the slightest memory of what the place looked like. Fortunately Neil did venture out and took a picture – a nice town square with a boulanger opposite.  At least we would be handy for fresh bread in the morning.  Wrong – it was a bank holiday in France so it did not open:-(  Victory in Europe day apparently. How do we always manage to get caught out like this?  Thank you Esternay nonetheless.

Neil was a few days ahead of me with his cold (but I do not blame him!) and I got it badly.  So my two weeks at the fermette was spent in a haze of aching sinuses, unending mucous and soggy tissues.  Lovely! Because of this we had not been round to greet the neighbours – ninety-year olds and colds are not a good mix.  They must have heard all the snorting and honking though because when I phoned to say goodbye and apologise for not popping in there was some alarm – my broken french (and the appalling telephone line) had not accurately conveyed that the phone call itself was the goodbye – they thought I was inviting us round to see them! Never has a farewell been so warm and sincere once we got it straight.

Neil prised the barn doors open, got the car started, mowed the lawn and kept the fire going for the first few days while I lay around and slept mostly.Neil mows 2017

Then the weather picked up and I managed to get a few tomatoes and basil plants in. We will be away at least six weeks and tomatoes need support – I created a network of sticks and string in the hopes they will grow through them and stay upright.  Toms 2017Or the other neighbour might take pity and tie them up.  He started to grow veg in the plot immediately behind ours when he retired a few years ago but gave it up as bad job. A townie all his life I think he thought it was a sort of magic that worked come rain come shine without too much hassle and was unprepared for poor crops.  The underground spring should keep the toms watered as it did last year – although we only went for up to ten days at any one time then.  I also got to see the irises flowering for the first time since planting them four years ago.

Irises 2017

We ventured as far as our local village for the festival of the Raising of the Cow – whom we found posing for photgraphs before the hoisting.

Blanchette small

Called Blanchette, she graces the church roof during the summer months and another festival, the Festival of the Chestnut, sees her descent in October. Legend has it that a real cow was put up there in a time of drought to graze on the grass on the roof and the story  is still  honoured.  The memory of Blanchette herself is honoured in a chunky plaster model as the church roof no longer offers good grazing. The festival has an accompanying brocante,  stalls of regional produce and a chipolata and chips opportunity at the food tent.  Feeling poorly we managed to force down a couple of helpings of  chipos and chips before retiring to the cool of the fermette.

It was now past mid-May and time was getting short.  Obtaining several boxes of tissues we consulted books, maps, on line apps and picked a route for crossing the Alps to Italy.  We felt nervous but fixed a date for moving on Friday 19 May. cropped-snails-poor.jpg

 

 

 

February to March 2017 – even more of a placeholder

Can you publish blog pages then re-arrange in another order?

I expect you can. I don’t know how to do it:-( I am sure I can go back and edit though so I am littering the blog with placeholders in the vain hope I will at some point go back and amplilfy! This page will contain all the thing s we did in February 2017. ?

Here is a highlight.  It is an aire on an almond and orange smallholding in the Jalon Valley.  We were there to meet up with some members of the Val Del Pop U3A  I met virtually during  my stint as Editor for the U3A Newsletter in York.  They get everywhere these U3As!

sunny-spain

Then it was back to France in late Feb to get the car back to Folkestone by 5 March for the MOT. Is it a good idea to have a very old English (well, German actually) car that spends a lot of time in France? Hmmmm….

More at some point.

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