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25 July to 17 August 2017- new route home

Pausing only to take advantage of the summer heat in France to give a couple of critters a good scrubbing we planned the route home.

 

Because my mother had moved down to Bristol we could easily incorporate a visit by taking the ferry from Cherbourg to Poole. This had the added advantage of passing close to friends from university days living in Dorset, whom we had not seen for a decade or more.

Heading northish/westish we aimed for the Loire valley and found a green and lovely spot beside the river Cher, a tributary, in the old town of St Aignan. Lovely, but awkward due to being on an uneven road edge with van-penetrating short bollards marking the limit of the parking. Neil navigated into the spot with precision and the panels remained unscathed – even when unparking the next day with other vans having closed the gap:-(

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The geraniums came with us as I could not bear to think of them sitting on the steps of the fermette freezing in the frosty Burgundian winter. (They made it home to York   unmarmalised and, by the good graces of our house sitters, should be coming back to France in July 2018.)

Racing northwards we spent the next night in one of the generous Aires in Fougères –  a remarkable fortified town just on the edge of Brittany. This steeply hilly old town afforded us some exercise but we did not dally as our sailing was a mere day away.

 

 

We spent our last night in a paid aire in a small fishing town a few miles from Cherbourg called St Vaast la Hougue. A charming spot with a chapel to seafarers and a café on the front that will sting unwary visitors hard for a mere cup of tea:-(  Lesson –  check the menu before sitting down even if it does make you feel miserly. Rain showers patrolled menacingly across the horizon but failed to make landfall.

 

Last day in la belle France and we parked up early in Cherbourg for a late afternoon sailing to Poole – not ideal but that is what happens with late bookings. Roaming the town in search of some mimolette cheese for Lorna and John, Neil found just the person to ask.

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Sun set as we crossed the Channel.

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Darkness fell before we arrived in the undulating field that passes for a campsite near their house. We parked on a bit that looked flattish in the dark taking pains to avoid guy ropes and feeling guilty at weaving between tents after ten thirty:-( Next morning we found a bit that was actually flat!  It was a holiday weekend and the site was filling up – we had to ask the next van that arrived not to park with their awning practically extending across our door. Campsite fire safety rules say you should be at least six metres from the next person so it was an easy ask.

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We spent the weekend walking and talking with Lorna and John and their two sons (whom we had last seen as babies!) and eating in the amazing, quirky, stone cottage. Then on to try and park near enough to my mother’s home in Bristol for her to manage to walk out to see the van. The tall stone entrance gate to the car park is very narrow and the road outside busy so we did not fancy tackling the manoeuvering that would be required to get a straight run at it – with no guarantee of success! By some miracle the minor road beside the park opposite her home is marked on park4night as spot where you can overnight! We did! Mummy managed the two hundred yards including a dash across the road, with our support and our urgent advice not to stop for a breather on the white line! She was amazed at the van and how it managed to contain a whole house in such a compact space. I am very pleased that she got to see it. Onto a CL a couple of miles away near Helen’s house (another lovely old stone cottage!) and another day or so with family.

We could not make York from Bristol before closing time at our storage so we spent a final night at a rural CL in Alne where the chickens welcomed us back to Yorkshire.

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And that is it for summer 2017. The garden at home had suffered slightly more than the one in France as it had been untended, except for some pot watering, for over three months. It was a tad overgrown:-( There’s a large shed somewhere back there!

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24 June to 24 July 2017 – Alps to fermette

Too far for one day’s drive to the fermette we picked a campsite beside a lake about half way back – Cormoranche-sur-Saône. The drive out of the mountains was scenic and relaxed, for a change!  It was still hot and the lake was welcome although not as nice a lake as our local one – I guess we were focussed on getting back by now.

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Stopping only for lunch at a tranquil aire beside a canal at Beaulon, and noting it as a nice stop for future reference, we headed home. Frustrating things in hot weather canals –  all that water and ne’er a drop to swim in.

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We had been away the best part of six weeks at the height of the growing season. My wild flower border was more wild than flower; my tomatoes had failed to thrive – they had not died, but seemed not to have grown as fast as the grass and weeds around them:-(

 

The baby hirondelles in the barn were learning to fly and we fell into our usual summertime round of activities of swimming, mowing, walking lazing in the sun, feeding the donkeys. Always cut the carrots long-ways and don’t give them bread – they can easily get diabetes apparently.

 

 

A few brocantes were attended, more for the chipos and chips than any desire to buy more stuff. A glut of apricots meant really low prices so I made apricot jam and then plum chutney.

 

The highlight was the communal game of boules and picnic.  I was privileged to be partnered with the mayor (Xavier) but Neil and the local carpenter, Jean Michel, won. Yes, we are on first name terms now, after only 12 years.

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The monument in the background is the memorial to the Maquis Julien who were based in the woods further down the lane. Many other resistance groups were based in this area as it was on the direct route from north to south so ideal for disrupting communications. Many brave men and women fought and died in guerrilla actions hereabouts and their memorials are scattered across the countryside and in village squares. They are all honoured on the anniversary of their notable battles – many in early August (1944) – when all the local dignitaries, the police, pompiers, and usually a small band will turn out together with flags and hunting horns.  A couple of years ago there were still a few very old maquisards present, tottering to attention for the national anthem.

Neil fought his own battle with a stray hornet whilst up a ladder cleaning the roof of the van. The hornet won! A trip to the pharmacy was needed. For information, take plenty of anti-histamines and take care to avoid an infection. It looked a bit grim.

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Portia relaxed in the garden and our next trip was a leisurely drive to a ferry port.

Heading back …

After Delphi we had two nights to get back to Patras for our ferry on 20th June. We wound back along the north coast of the Gulf of Corinth looking down at the small villages in the bays below. Each had a cluster of buildings in the middle and rough roads extending either side along the beach. A motorhome could easily park up discreetly away from the buildings and stay the night. After trying one or two we found a spot just along from a taverna where the van did not obstruct anyone’s view or access. A passing bus driver told us we were fine there.  The view was nice, the water was but feet away so first we had a swim (that speck is Neil) and then a cup of tea at the taverna. We had post cards to write. It’s all go.

 

Being nervous of missing the boat we wanted to stay the night before the sailing just a short distance away. So over the Gulf we went on the amazing Rio-Antirrio suspension bridgeimage  back to the first camp site we stayed at when we arrived a few weeks ago. Next morning we found the right road back to the ferry port by ignoring  Stella’s directions to the shorter, narrower, busier minor roads we had followed on arrival.

Our sailing was mid-afternoon so we got there late morning and parked up in the blasting heat of the port car park. Check-in informed us the ferry was two hours late and, as afternoon turned to evening, this extended to five hours. The chaos beside the dock was even worse than the outward trip. The only staff around were there to chase the skinny brown young men who raced across the concrete with their small backpacks trying to get onto a ship or a lorry. Or a motorhome.  It was sad. But we all checked our back doors were locked:-(

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As the sun set the ferry arrived and boarding of the vehicles took forever. No one had directed any vehicle into a queue for its destination – the Ancona travellers, who would get off first, were randomly mixed with those for Igoumenitsa and Venice. We were amongst the last loaded so it was approaching midnight before we were finally on and plugged in. The restaurants were closed, despite assurances they would stay open late, so we went supperless to bed.  Ah well.

The time was not made up over the twenty-three hours sailing so we arrived in Ancona after dark with a few possible campsite destinations just hoping they were still open. They weren’t.  We finally found a parking area where motohomes were permitted to overnight and pulled in gratefully.  One nasty point on the journey was the low underpass that did not reveal its height until we had descended the short, narrow, concrete culvert that was the slip road – a flat 3.00 metres! Oh my god – we are 3.10:-( Braced for the crunch of shattering satellite dome we shot under it. Nothing happened. Phew! We are definitely 3.10 so the underpass was fibbing!

By now the whole of southern Europe was in the grip of a developing heatwave and I was getting anxious. The cool of the Alps beckoned and we decided on a fast trip back across the northern Italian plain  on the motorway. This took us to a farm most of the way across where the farmer was not yet set up for the agritourist season, but ushered us into the shade of his courtyard and brought us cold water to drink.

image  We spent the rest of the  sweltering 40 degree evening wilting in the farmyard and watching the sunset over the plain. imageNext time we go to Greece it will definitely be earlier in the year.

We raced on the next day choosing the route across the Alps we had been unable to take on the outward trip due to a road closure. We assumed the road down the other side of the mountains would be open by now. Dangerous things assumptions:-(  we passed various notice boards warning of road works and seeming to say no vehicles over eight metres should proceed. We are only six, so no problem. To cut a long, heart-in-mouth story short, a “route de secours” had been created from a goat track on one side of the steep valley to by-pass a damaged bridge on the proper road on the other side of the chasm! Oh bugger!! There was enough room to edge past on-coming traffic in most places, and passing places had been newly-carved into the cliff face in others. And there was quite a surprising amount of traffic using this emergency road. There was no going back as we could neither turn around nor reverse up the hairpins. We were on the outside of the road with the sheer cliff below us so it was hairy in the extreme.  Only one angry French driver shouted that we should not be on the road endangering innocent motorists. We agreed but had met the only criterion specified, had there been fuller information, we would not have been. Not our fault guv, honest! The final section was single lane only and controlled by traffic lights so slightly less scary and after ten kilometres we could drive back across the dam to the proper road. Never again! My hands were glued to the armrests in terror so no pictures were taken.

We pulled gratefully into a French aire half way down the other side of the Alps in what is a ski resort in winter. It was still very hot and an icy stream beckoned – fed straight from the glaciers above. Neil wimped out but I got in. Neil video-ed the process, with sound, and it is painful viewing and listening. Definitely the coldest yet but a certain numb euphoria comes over you after a minute or so and you can stay in longer than you would think (without needing emergency resuscitation).

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Here is the proof – note the reflections of frozen peaks in the background.

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And here they are in person. Brrrrr.

 

Catching up after a long break….

Not sure why my blogging ground to a halt back in June 2017 but, once halted, it is hard to get going again. So here we are in January 2018: house sitters are in place enjoying the snow in York and we are idling in the Portuguese countryside in full sun and 16 degrees. I want to start going again but feel obliged to fill in the missing parts.  What follows on this page, and maybe the next, is a lightning summary of the intervening six or so months. I did not bring my Mac on this trip so these pages are produced from my iPad. The editing functions seem to be more limited on here so apologies for differences. Also – the wifi connection seems able to cope with only short blogs – so lots of short ones follow.

18 June – Delphi

Our drive from our campsite one side of the town of Delphi to the archaeological site on the other entailed a nail biting, heart stopping detour via winding streets that became so narrow we had to stop and reverse to avoid wedging our ungainly six metres between ancient stone buildings.  The main road, once regained, took us straight to ancient Delphi – centre of the world – and this stone omphalos marks the spot. It was thrown

imagethere by Zeus after two eagles had indicated the approximate spot. There seem to be several such omphalosses in existence so there is a chance that this story is not true.  It was also the home of the amazingly powerful Oracle of Delphi whose seat over the gaseous vent is now nothing but an unprepossessing pile of rocks.  Earthquakes have taken their toll here as in other Greek sites. The whole site is truly magnificent, containing the remarkable amphitheatre (still used) image the temple and sanctuary of Apollo imageand attendant treasuries from the kings of all regions.image

The treasures from the site are in yet another not-to-be-missed museum. The entry ticket to the site includes the museum up the road (12 euros for oldsters from memory).image

Now back to Patras for the ferry to Italy.

 

 

 

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.

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