Our last days in Greece

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27/04/2018 Ponteleimon

The drive to Ponteleimon was a very easy 85 miles to get to this very small coastal town. It definitely looks as though a lot of the residents rely on the tourist trade in one way or another. We are in need of cash, but the ATM only works in the tourist season. Elaine and I walked towards the castle at the end of the beach.

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It doesn’t look real as it all looks too neat and tidy. We sat and had a drink at a bar and asked the bar man about the castle. Him and his friends all got their mobile phones out and came to tell us that it is genuine as it was built in the 12th century. We had a quiet evening and for once, quite an early night.

28/04/2018 Eparchaiki

We temporarily said our goodbyes to Brian and Wendy and went off on a search for cash. This is another small town and we found a newly set up ATM, but it hadn’t been turned on. We drove past all the bars and tavernas and between the town and the small port we came across a convenient car park which became our stop for the night. Just as well I am not reliant on my fishing skills to put food in our mouths. I fished for a couple of hours without luck.

In the evening a tubby man kept walking up and down, staring at our motorhome. We weren’t worried about him, he probably just wanted a chat but was too shy to approach us. P1020088.JPGIn the morning four pelicans came gliding across the bay and went right up to a fishing boat as if cadging for tasty tit bits from the fisherman. I got some nice pictures and their presence made that night’s stop very worthwhile.

29/04/2018 The Olympic Beach, Katerini

We drove back around 12 miles to go into a town to find a working cash machine. Right in the centre we were spoilt for choice and drew out some euros. We then followed the signs to get to the Olympic Beach. It is so called because snow covered Mount Olympus dominates the area.

P1020091.JPGWe drove along beside the long, sandy beach and parked right beside a mini church.

Very convenient if either of us decide that we are in need of some spiritual guidance.

After walking around the restaurant area, we went back to the van and spent the afternoon sunbathing on the beautiful beach. Once again there were no other motorhomes around. During the very quiet night, Elaine was woken by a car stopping very close to us. She took a peak and all it was, was a couple of sinners (possibly) stopping to light candles in the church.

30/04/2018 Vergina.

We headed inland and after 93 miles we arrived at a protected yard owned by a very enterprising Greek man. He had a tarmacked yard that for 7 euros ith electric you could park for the night. Vergina has recently become a tourist hot spot. As recently as 1977, archaeologists celebrated the most significant historic and archaeological event of the 20th century.

P1020115.JPGThey started investigating a mound and now people come from around the world to see the gold and priceless artefacts discovered there. We were here to see the Ancient Cemetery of Aegae, known as The Royal Tombs. The experts say it is the tomb of Philip 11, the great Marshall and the King of Macedonia. He was assassinated and him, his favourite dogs, his best horses and everything he would need for the afterlife were put on the pyre and burnt. Apparently, his wife walked into the pyre voluntarily, so she could be with him. All his treasures were then sealed in the tomb with him.

We paid our euros and descended down into the tomb. The rule was no photography at all. As I was carrying my camera I was followed throughout by a very hefty looking lady, guard. The few pictures I show here were taking from a book we had to purchase which I presume is the reason for the rule.

The treasures we saw took our breath away.

1st and 2nd/05/2018 Nea Mondenia

The next morning, we left and headed off to catch up with the Aussies. We had to drive on the ring road around Thessaloniki. We pulled off the main road and parked up in a street and by chance we were only about ¾ of a mile from the centre. We walked down to the waterfront and then followed that along until we reached the famous White Tower.

P1020128.JPGThe tower itself has had lots of names. When it was used as a prison and a place of execution it was called the Black Tower. A prisoner who was held there volunteered to paint it white to gain his freedom.

It was the Mayday public holiday, so the crowds were out, and the bars and restaurants were full. The beautiful warm sunny day meant that there were people promenading everywhere. One of the few shops that was open was the Nuts Factory.

What a great concept and what a colourful shop. The highlight of the short visit was the chap sitting at the water’s edge playing an accordion and then he picked up a trumpet and played that whilst still playing the accordion with his right hand.

P1020135.JPGThe sound was magical. We put some money in his cap and he asked us where we were from. For us he did a fantastic rendition of “When the saints go marching in”.

We all know that Greece as a country is very impoverished. At the moment they are going through the process of going cap in hand for another huge loan to keep their economy afloat.P1020146.JPG By the look of the huge, magnificent bank building we saw in Thessaloniki the banks have plenty of money even if the rest of the country are struggling. Once we had had a good look round the water side of the city, we made our way back to the van to continue our journey.

We met up with Brian and Wendy and stayed at Nea Mondenia for two days. On the second day I did a tiny bit for the environment. I went snorkelling again and collected all the plastic I could see off the sea bed.

03/05/2018 Nea Potida

the three fingers

We drove just a few miles down to stop at Nea Potida which is just over the bridge from the first finger. There are three fingers (three peninsulas) Kassandra, Sithonia and Athos. The first and second peninsulas are navigable but the third is uniquely different. It is an autonomous state ruled by 1,700 monks who live in the 20 monasteries that live there. Only men can visit Athos and even then, it is by invitation only. At the moment the waiting time to get a visit is over a year. I will write about Athos and the holy mountain of Mount Athos when I explain about the boat trip we took in a few days’ time.

Our time in Greece is running all too short so we spent the day driving around the first finger. We saw great bays and beautiful scenery. Now wish we had left more time to thoroughly explore these peninsulas. The highlight of the day was quite a strange one. We stopped by the side of the road outside quite a large building. The people came out and we thought they were going to tell us off for parking on their land. Far from it. The invited us in for coffee. The building used to be a chandlers which had been ran by the family for years. They were in the process in turning the whole place into holiday lets. We turned up, just as they were just discussing the brochure and internet advertising they had to do. What is the right English description for what they were going to be offering? At that moment two English vans arrive on their frontage. Hence the invitation. They seemed pleased with the wording we suggested after a tour of the very high-class conversion they were undertaking.

We completed the whole circuit of the first finger and returned to Nea Potida to wild camp there for the night. We went over to a taverna that evening and had a superb Greek meal. The owner’s son who was serving us told us where to go to get tickets for the boat trip to see the monasteries.

4th & 5th /05/2018 Vouvoura

We drove off to a local town to get our boat tickets for Saturday. Just up from the town Square was a very fancy church so, of course, I left the others in the travel shop, so I could get the picture I wanted.P1020150.JPG

We decided to stay at a campsite, so we had safe places to leave our vans whilst out all day on the boat the next day. What a beaut spot (sorry about that, I have been around the Australians too long). Vouvoura is in the Gulf of Agion Oros and is totally protected from the elements by the island that lays in front of it. A sand spit lays out into the bay and the water is crystal clear. Out came the snorkel and mask. Another swim was called for. We arranged for a taxi to pick us up at 8.30 the next morning.

We were nice and early at the port at Ormos Panagias.

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It wasn’t very long before we were on board, so we headed upstairs. The brochure said the boat would take us across until level with the 6,660 ft holy Mount Athos and then take us back up alongside the peninsula so we could see the 10 monasteries on this side. So, as we were first on the boat we sat on the right had side of the boat to guarantee a great view. This was our second mistake that day.

The four of us have been so used to the beautiful warm weather that we didn’t think to take anything warm to wear. Almost as soon as the boat set off, the sun went behind clouds and people all around us started putting on their coats they had brought with them. It was freezing but we were loathed to go downstairs in case we lost our great seats. Elaine and Wendy went off and came back with blankets the crew had for idiots like us.IMG_3393.jpgMistake two was that the contrary captain headed straight for the first monastery and the commentary would start there. Now we would be on the wrong side of the boat.

After a bit the sun emerged from the clouds and it started warming up. Then some dolphins came around the boat and the two hundred or so people all rushed over to our side of the boat and the boat leaned over alarmingly. You will see some of the pictures I took and the commentary told of the some of the riches held by each of the monasteries. We were told one had a piece of the actual cross that Jesus was crucified on.

 

On the way back the boat stopped at a small village for a break and all the shopkeepers and restaurant staff did their best to get us to come in and spend money in their establishment. We were thoroughly entertained by two girls doing Greek dancing accompanied by a chap playing a beautifully decorated bouzouki.

P1020240.JPG Of course, Elaine couldn’t stop herself from Joining in.

Once, before we started our travels, the campsite at Sutton Hargrave in North Yorkshire has always been one of our favourite peaceful retreats with great views. After a brilliant day we returned to yet another fabulous camping place to enjoy another swim and then an evening with some Dutch people who were parked just across from us. Where does that Yorkshire farm come in our list of memorable places to take our motor home.

06/05/2018 Sarti

Today we started around Sithonia, the second finger. Hard to describe really. Rugged landscape would have to be part of the description. Very narrow, often sand covered roads would take you down to fabulous sandy coves. We went into Sarti a small town, halfway down the east side. Just on we finally found our way down to an ideal sandy haven we spotted from the road above to enjoy the total peace and tranquillity we found there. So, we stopped there for the night.

7th & 8th /05/2018 Nikiti

We continued the circular journey and called into Sykia which is the only town not on the coast. Further on we followed yet another sandy road that finally got us onto a beach. Another small road took us down to a small harbour and there, as well as all the boats, we saw a memorial to four airman that were killed in a helicopter crash.

After a great day we pulled into Nikiti where we will prepare for our crossing over the border into Bulgaria.

More snorkelling and I have seen more fish during a swim than I have seen anywhere else. The evidence of the many sea urchins just shows how clean the water is here.fish.PNG

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So tomorrow it will be good bye to Greece and hello to Bulgaria. We have a bit of a plan and we will end up at the resorts on the Dead Sea before crossing the next border into Romania.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think we have found paradise

19th-27th/04/2018

We were up, ready to leave our camping place at Athens at the un-earthly hour of 07.30. Why? So many people use the back streets to park; to catch the train into Athens. The streets are narrow anyway. With all the cars parked either side of the road; it would be impossible to drive our motorhomes through, to get onto the main road. The only way is to drive the wrong way up a shortish stretch of a one-way road. We left early in the hope we wouldn’t meet anybody coming the other way. All exciting stuff and not quite the thing I am used to doing. All went well turning onto the main road but the downside of leaving early is that we got caught in Greece’s capital city, rush hour traffic. We all felt that we had had enough of ancient relics and that we all needed a bit of beach time.

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We drove to Sikia, in the Pelion region, which is situated in the Pegasetic Gulf. When we got to the campsite we were lucky enough to get two pitches, side by side, right by the beach. Instantly, we knew we had found paradise. The campsite is one of the best we have stayed on anywhere. The Gulf is protected on all four sides, so the sea barely gets up more than a ripple. The water is so clear that it is a perfect swimming place. There is a great restaurant and bar and the shop had just been opened when we arrived. The weather now is constant blue skies and sunny, and the temperature in the shade is averaging around 28 degrees centigrade each day.

P1010946 Almost immediately we got chatting with the other campers in the area we were in. We were made to feel at home which certainly doesn’t happen quite so much at other sites we have been on.

There is a convenience store on the main road and either side of Sikia there are restaurants and beach bars at Kato Gatzea on one side and Kala Nera on the other side. Both small villages are within easy walking distance. Every hour and a half, a bus runs each way passed the campsite. One way takes you down the Pelion region and the other takes you into Volos. Volos is a coastal, port city situated 205 miles north of Athens and 137 miles south of Thessalonika and is the capital of the region.

Mount Pilio dominates the sky line and everyone warned us against taking our motorhomes up the mountains to visit the bays on the other side. Our first bus trip took us to Argalisti so we could go to the weekly market that is held there. We got some great views as we were driven quite high up the mountain range to get to the small town.P1010964

After the market and our walk around the town we went to a café in the square and enjoyed some more of the Greek cuisine. Sometimes, it is pot luck if you get what you think you have ordered. One habit that the Greeks have is that they drop food off their plates to feed the many stray cats and dogs that hang around everywhere. That means you are pestered by the strays whenever food is brought to your table.

We became quite adept about taking the bus into Volos and the centre is about 14 km from the campsite. We had thought about getting a boat trip from one of the many boats tied up on the water fronts. but learnt that we were just a bit early to find what we wanted.

P1020020.JPG We now know that it is the 1st of May and onward when the tourists start flocking to the area. The boat owners were busy readying their crafts for the busy season to come. Many campsites do not open until the 1st and some do not open until the 15th of the month. Volos is a bustling city and if you enjoy shopping then you will enjoy Volos.

The similarity between Greece and Spain is that they both have great climates. The big difference is the way the people treat us. We have found that once the Greeks get from behind the wheel of their cars they become such nice people. Already, in the six weeks we have been here, we have witnessed and received help, smiles and waves. Take this one example. Whilst enjoying a great Greek meat dish I bit down on a hidden bone. I broke a tooth. We went into Volos looking for a dentist. We searched in vain and we asked the waiter if he knew where I could get help. He asked a chap who was enjoying a coffee and he came over to help. The proprietor then phoned the dentist and handed me the phone. He said he would see me straight away. Then a map was drawn for me and off I went. It was not easy to find so I went to the fire station with all the firemen sitting around waiting for the next shout. I got smiles and greeting from all the men and the chap from the office came out and walked me down the street chatting away like he had known me forever. The dentist did a great job and the problem was over.

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Back on the campsite we enjoyed the swimming and the friendliness of the campers around us. One couple I must mention are Luigi and Elanor. Luigi is Italian and Elanor is Russian. What a fascinating couple and are both multilingual. We were introduced to their friends, Jim and Sue who live in the next village and Barrie who lives with his cats up in the mountains above us.

IMG_3333We all spent a wonderful afternoon together enjoying tsipoura (a Greek spirit) together. Each time another round came out, the more complementary meze food was put on the table. Later we visited Jim and Sue’s house to round off the afternoon drinking wine in their front garden.

We were reluctant to leave this paradise of a site, so we hired a car for two days, so we could explore the area further. The first day we drove down almost to the tip.  The roads were almost deserted, and we got great views and further down we could see the sea either side of the peninsula.

When we got to Trikeri we stopped at a tabepna (a bar) right on the edge of the town that had a terrace with a fabulous view.

P1020044.JPGWe went on down to the very end to Agia Kyriaki. Unfortunately, the only way back was to drive all the way back on the same road. It had been another hot day, so a swim was the order of the day.

The next day we headed up Mount Pilio, the mountain that dominates the whole area. The map showed the whole route as a series of very severe sharp bends and we were heading for some of the small towns and villages on the east side. In lots of places the roadway had collapsed and in others it looked like repairs had been started, but never finished. All along the route we could see the little religious houses signifying where another Greek had lost their life because of the way they drive.

P1020049Ironically, the speed limit all over the mountain is 90km an hour and we were passed by maniacs doing that speed or more. Periodically we would pass a hamlet or small village and it was a wonder why people should choose to live up there. Going down is as bad as going up, but finally we reached the first of the small sea side resorts and stopped for coffee. We continued to the adjoining seaside village, Damouchari  which was one of the locations for the filming of Mama Mia. None of the towns link up so you have to drive back up to the road along the top before getting to the next steep road going downwards. At one stage the sat nav wanted to take us onto a very narrow dirt road to continue onward but we turned around to find a better route.

We then came to a village right by the ski centre and had a great meal before heading back to the camp.

In the morning we headed into Volos to return the car and dropped Wendy and Elaine off to get to a hairdresser. Brian and I went off to find the station and saw all these abandoned old locos.

We then all returned to the camp to prepare for the off the next day. All good things must come to an end sometime. We said our goodbyes to all the people we had met whilst there.

As the weather has been so good we have had some quite nice sunsets. Here are a sample of the many such pictures I have taken.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The more we see, the more we love Greece

P1010689.JPG14th-16th April 2018 Ancient Corinth

We moved on from Kalamata and headed towards Corinth and Athens. We were on our way to a small campsite at old Corinth that we had great reports of. We were not disappointed. The site was great. There was everything we needed. On top of the showers, toilets and emptying facilities they had their own wine and olive oil for sale at cheap prices. We didn’t feel mean when we only bought one bottle when we arrived. It wasn’t long before we found out why this campsite gets such rave reviews. Spiros (the owner of the campsite) and his daughter came to see us, shortly after we arrived. He offered to take us out for the day in his car to see all the local sites. He quoted a price and we readily agreed. The next day we would meet him at his car.

Within a quarter of a mile of the camp entrance is the site of Ancient Corinth. This city was razed by the Romans in 146 BC. A century later it was rebuilt to hold a population of 750,000 people. The village around the ancient monument site now probably houses no more than 750 people. However, before we got to the site itself we passed lots of eating places and shops selling souvenirs. As senior citizens from an EEC country we get, everywhere, reduced entry prices.

The most dominating structure is the Temple of Apollo. Later we went to the terrace of one of the bar / restaurants and from here we got a panoramic view of the whole site which constitutes the largest Roman township in Greece.

At 10 am we met Spiros and first he took us to see one end of the canal that links the eastern Mediterranean with the with the Adriatic. Use of this canal saves shipping a round trip of 131 nautical miles and is an expensive crossing for the ships that use it.

P1010684 The canal took 12 years to build and was opened in 1893. In its building, a new mountain was built along the canal’s 6,343 length and the water is 8 meters deep along the whole length. At this end there is an ingenious road bridge that drops down to allow shipping to pass over it.

Spiros said that sometimes, when it is raised again to allow traffic to flow over it, large fish are seen flapping away on the roadway. He then took us half way along the canal, so we could walk across one of the bridges. It was a great place to take photos.

Next. he took us up to a monastery (Spiros said it was for women). The drive up to the monastery of St Potapois took us way up a mountain on a very narrow road. Obviously, Spiros drives up here quite regularly as he drove very quickly. I know Elaine and Wendy closed their eyes and refused to look as we went around some of the bends in the road. The view from the top was only spoilt by the haze caused by the sand coming off the Sahara. Elaine and Wendy had to cover their legs with a long blue skirt before they could enter but Brian and I were okay showing our legs despite both wearing shorts.

The main church is built into the rock and there was a noticeable aura of peace as soon as we entered the grounds of the monastery despite the number of visitors.

Spiros then drove us back down the mountain and he showed us the spa baths before taking us into New Corinth where we had coffee at a very nice café right on the sea front. On the way back, he took us past the new motorway just below the campsite and he showed more ancient ruins right below the motorway itself.

P1010739 Spiros had to work the next day, so it was arranged that his father would take us up to the castle on the mountain opposite.

He spoke Greek and French, so it was my job to chat with him and to pass on any information he had for us. He is obviously not a lover of the Turkish nation. With great delight he told us that this is the largest castle in Europe and it has (had) three rings of fortification. It was held by the Turks, but the Greeks took the castle by siege. He drove even faster than Spiros up to the entrance and waited while we climbed up to the main entrance and then around a lot of the well, preserved area.

P1010748.JPG Although we were there to see the castle we all loved the lovely wild flowers that grow over the whole grounds. Amazingly, there was no entrance fee and the words health and safety cannot hold any place in the Greek language. Even though it was perfectly dry the slippery foot-ways all over were potentially  lethal and high up on the ramparts, there were no safety fences where large chunks of the wall were missing.

Wendy slipped at one stage and we all held our breaths. Luckily it was only her pride that was hurt. The Dad drove us fast back down the mountain and then suddenly stopped on a bend. He had spotted a wild flower he wanted and good old Brian volunteered to jump down in the ditch so he could dig up the roots of the plant.

17th-19th April 2018 Athens

We had an easy drive to Athens and got slotted in to a protected car park right by the Cruise Ship Docks in Piraeus, a suburb of Greece’s capital. We knew already knew that Maria, the owner of the park, is a goldmine of information about all things Athens. Just around the corner is the station where we would take the train for the twenty-minute journey to the centre. However, first we had to make preparations for the short journey. We have had lots of warnings, and Maria made it very clear. Organised gangs work the trains, pick-pocketing is the way they get their money. All say it is not the Greeks doing the crime. The countless immigrants get the blame. Brian and I have small bags to hang around our necks for our money and our ID and nothing is carried in our pockets.

To emphasise this, just before leaving for the station, the Belgian who was parked next to us said that he had been robbed the day before. The “bum” bag he wore in front of him around his waist was opened and stuff taken without him knowing. Luckily, he had a chain attached to his wallet because he looked down to see it hanging around his knees.

We took two days exploring Athens and really the only way I can do justice to this fabulous city is to do it with some of the pictures I took.

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us (2)Everywhere we went in Athens we saw more and more old relics

The weather was great and we all loved this thriving, bustling city. We climbed up to the Acropolis where lots of reconstruction is going on: after all, it was built in the middle of the 5th century BC. At one stage we went through a park trying to find the entrance to the Ancient Agora, the old political heart of Athens, built around 600 BC. Now we witnessed the other side of Greece. Here we saw the homeless, the dropouts and probably some of the many immigrants. It did not feel like an area of safety and I certainly didn’t take any pictures in this park.

The parliament building is guarded by evzones dressed in their kilts and their pom-pom boots. They perform their version of the “Ministry of Silly Walks” in front of a large stone bed which is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

 

We are all thoroughly enjoying Greek food and Maria (from the car park) recommended a great restaurant close to where we had parked our motor homes. The food was superb and we had a great evening.

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Here I must insert a correction from a previous blog. Whilst we were at Ancient Olympia there was a statue  of the Roman Emperor Adrian and said that he kept his head whilst everyone else were losing theirs (his was one of the few statues that had a head). In Athens we saw what must have been a later statue of the same Emperor.  He didn’t!

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Today we move towards Ancient Corinth and Athens

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2 – 13/04/2018 Kalamata

After all the excitement of the near disastrous damage caused by the road conditions here in Greece we have decided to have a break from touring. A little sojourn is called for. So, we headed back to the marina at Kalamata. Brian and Wendy are there and will be until their part arrives from England. We didn’t tell them we were on our way back. Thought it would be a nice surprise. They were up town when we arrived, and we managed to get exactly the same spot, right on the water’s edge, next to the front of their van.

When they returned through the gate, they noticed another van next to theirs, only when they got closer, did they realise it was us back. Of course, a celebration was called for. The next day, Brian and I climbed under our van and between us, made permanent the repair I had done to the brackets that hold the water tank onto the underside of our motorhome.

The weather now has turned warm. Everyday it seems to be getting hotter and hotter and we are now beginning to see the boats being worked on for when it is time to leave the marina. We watch the fishing boats go out in the morning and return later in the evening.

Capture.PNG I keep getting into trouble because I keep feeding any bread we have to the fish. It is great to see the different varieties that join the feeding frenzy as handfuls of bread are thrown into the water in front of the van. A lone Razor Fish is now a regular visitor to the food fest. Fishing is never allowed in marinas, but it is very tempting to get my fishing rods off the top of our van.

One thing that would make all sweet toothed people jealous is that, this year we have had two Easter celebrations. We are English, so we celebrated Easter at the normal time. However here in Greece Easter is celebrated one week later because the Greek Orthodox church go by the old Julian calendar unlike almost everybody else that use the Gregorian calendar. This is a very religious country and although most will not fully follow the rules for lent, most will have some things that they give up. So, whilst we were out and about this Good Friday we saw lots of “Guy Fawkes” type effigies being strung up all over town.

P1010550.JPG A young lad was up a ladder putting the finishing touches to his effort. We asked him what it is for. In perfect English he told us that in their religion the dummy signifies Judas Iscariot who was one of Jesus’s apprentices and at around 10 pm they kill him by setting him alight.

All day we have been hearing fireworks and the people ringing the church bells must have been on overtime. That Evening the four of us went off and stood in front of the rather macabre sight of six such dummies strung up awaiting their fate. Lots of people stood behind the dummies and every so often the mannequins were sprayed with a fire accelerant. Meanwhile bangers were lit and tossed into the field behind. More and more people came to watch whatever was going to happen. Around 10 pm masses of fireworks were heard in the distance. The sound got closer.

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Then around the corner came a procession led by a man carrying a cross followed by a priest and then four men, one each corner of a flower decorated bed with a picture of Jesus laying on the mattress. Following on were throngs of people all carrying lit candles whilst singing hymns.  The moment “Jesus” got level with the last dummy, it was immediately set alight followed by the other 5 Judas Iscariots.

Smoke filled the area and many of the followers stopped singing as they covered their mouths. At the same time there was a crescendo of bangs and coloured lights as many fireworks were lit to add to the spectacle. I risked being ran over by the faithful and smoke-filled lungs to get these pictures for you.

The bells of all the churches around started tolling at 8 am Easter Saturday and went on all day. We went to a supermarket and lamb couldn’t be bought for love nor money. It was all pre-ordered as this is must ingredient for any Greeks Easter Sunday meal. Whole prepared lambs were being wheeled towards the checkout ready for the Sunday spit roast. We did learn that at 10 o’clock that evening, everyone goes to church. On leaving the church people go home carrying their lit, highly decorated candles. Now Lent is over. The celebrations can carry on all night and into the next day when barbecues and loud Greek music are the order of the day.  Also, on Easter Sunday, everything is closed including the restaurants and bars. It is said that this is the one day of the year when even the ferries to the many islands do not run. At the parties, everyone goes armed with a red hard boiled egg. They tap their eggs against other eggs and the person’s egg that remains intact is deemed to be lucky throughout the next year. This is one tradition we did not join in. I feel we are so fortunate to be doing what we do that we do not need an un-cracked boiled egg to tell us how lucky we are.

We went down to a local car hire depot and hired a standard four door saloon for two days. The four of us packed our bags the next day and went off to pick up the car. We had been upgraded to a 1.4 litre, diesel BMW at no extra cost. Brian and I shared the driving and we planned to find a hotel for the night. Off we went. Driving a car on the narrow Greek roads is a totally different experience to driving our motorhomes. We first went down to the caves at Pyrgos Dirou, so Brian and Wendy could experience what we had already seen.

We then went on to Gytheio and found a great hotel right on the water front. Elaine negotiated the price for the two rooms down to an easily afforded price. That evening we had a great meal out and then found a fascinating bar full of a random selection of interesting curios including a chatty parrot in a large cage.

The next day we drove all around the Lukonikos Kolpos, the huge bay and on down to Monemvasia. This very up-market sea side resort has a very special claim to fame. Over the bridge from the modern town is Greece’s Rock of Gibraltar.

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We parked the car and followed everyone to the far end of the rock. We could see signs of fortifications way up on top. Once through the walls at the end we came into the quaintest narrow streets full of shops, bars and cafes. Way above, there was a zigzag path that would lead you up to the top of the rock.p10105361.jpg

Whilst Brian, Wendy and Elaine went off to get a coffee, I just had to see what was up there. Having climbed to behind the houses, I found the start of the zig-zag path up to the top. The pathway was shiny cobbles and very slippery so, very carefully I started the climb. The view from the top was well worth the effort to get up there and at the top there was a mixture of old ruins and recently renovated parts.

Over the castle walls I got great pictures of the small township below and then I spotted the other three far below. Back across the bridge we found a café for lunch in this now very busy holiday hot spot.

Heading back, we had great views of the snow covered, severe Tangelos mountain range. We were driving in beautiful sunshine and the warmth and up there was lots of the white stuff. We had started to climb by the time we got to Mystras and the weather was on the change. By the time we got to this fascinating town it was raining so we decided to take the mountain route back to the marina, so we could see if the route was suitable for our motorhomes. The road climbed and climbed and now we were on the narrowest zig-zagging roads imaginable. The rain turned into a storm and the thunder and lightening preceded a downpour of hailstones. Visibility was so bad I had to stop for our safety. Brian offered to take over the driving but that would have meant me getting out of the car during the “monsoon” that was taking place, so I stayed firmly in the driving seat. Torrents of water were running down the road.

When we got to the top the storm abated and all around us we could see snow on the fields around us. At some stages the road way took us through holes in the mountain rock that towered above us. On the way down, we went through long stretches where the roadway was completely covered in running water. Finally, when we got down to almost sea level we were back in the warmth and the sunshine. I think we all agreed that that particular road is not really suitable for motorhome travel.

The days passed by. We were all very relaxed. We kept trying to track the parcel for the part, so Brian and Wendy could drive their motorhome safely. Finally, after yet another search, I discovered that the parcel was in Germany!!!! Thank you, UK post office for your not so wonderful service. I finally also got a phone number for the Greek company that would eventually be delivering the parcel. I also discovered that they had an office here in Kalamata. Off we tracked. Finally, we got a promise after more phone calls that we would have the parcel at the latest by Monday.

So, between us, we decided to get another hire car. Budget / Avis did us another great deal and hired us exactly the same BMW at the super low price that we had got it for before. We packed our bags and set off down to Nafplio. We started off going over the same mountain we had crossed when I was driving during the storm. Brian drove, so of course, the sun shone, and the going was perfect. We stopped at the ancient ruins at Mystras and spent a few hours wandering around the wonders that were there. After a great, typically Greek meal, in the town, Brian drove us down to Nafplio.

I do not do recommendations but if you ever get the chance then Nafplio is a place to visit. The old town is full of narrow streets with great bars, shops and restaurants. There is a fort out in the bay and the mountains that lay behind are covered in fascinating looking fortifications.

We finally decided on which hotel we would stay at and managed to park just across the road from the entrance. It wasn’t long before we were enjoying the hospitality of a nice bar and sat people watching and enjoying the sunshine of the lovely warm day. We went off to explore the town and to see where we fancied eating that evening.

This is a very busy resort and is now very high on our best places to visit in Greece list. That evening we had a great Lamb dish in a fabulous, typically Greek restaurant. This place got the nod because the old man of the restaurant took Elaine and Wendy through to the kitchen where he proceeded to open every pot on the huge stove to show them what was cooking. Later on the same old man came over to the table to chat. When he learnt that Brian and Wendy are Australians, he went off and got his address book and asked if they knew his nephew who lives in Australia. Before going back to the hotel, we walked around the town again to take night pictures around the town.

Today, after breakfast we made our way up to the extensive castle and the views from up there were magnificent. We headed north from Nafplio and we to Ancient Mycenae to look at the ruins there before heading back to the Marina via the new Greek toll road. Great we got back a little early. The indicator stalk had been delivered here to the office just today and Brian immediately fitted it and we all got the thumbs up.

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We are on our way towards Ancient Corinth and Athens tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

A bad road surface nearly ended our trip

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24-31/03/2018 Kalamata Marina.
We left the campsite at Finikounde and if we had known what the weather was going to be for our journey northward to Kalamata was going to be like we would have stayed put where we were. It would have been safer. We wanted to move to a bigger town because we knew that there was going to be a National Celebration on Sunday so off we went. As soon as Brian started their van he knew they had a problem as the left-hand indicator started going and wouldn’t turn off. Now we needed to get to a bigger place for a different reason. We needed to get the problem fixed.

Brian took the lead I followed so I could do his indicating for him. Suddenly it started raining. Well, actually, it didn’t just start raining, torrential rain poured out of the sky accompanied by loud claps of thunder and instant bolts of lightning. There was nowhere to pull over to until the storm had finished. Brian turned left off the main road, so I followed. Now we were on a much smaller road which was totally covered in fast flowing water. Elaine used her phone to send them a message because our Sat-Nav had said we should have stayed on the wider road. All in all, it was an awful journey.
Finally, we pulled into the marina. We were given keys to the toilets and showers and were told where to plug in, so we could use the electric. There is a lovely bar here and a separate restaurant. It is a great place to stop, in amongst the boats and yachting fraternity. We went to a local bar later on, to relax after the stresses of the drive here.

One thing I haven’t talked about is the airborne sand that is being carried here on the south winds from the Sahara Desert. We have now learnt that this year it is particularly bad. Everywhere and everything is covered in a layer of sand.

P1010282 The mountain that towers over the area is almost invisible because of this dust. When the wind comes from the south and it rains then it is even worse. Brian and I had washed our vans at the last camp site and after the one journey, the vans looked uncared for. The Greek government are advising the young and the elderly to stay indoors due to the inhalation of the dust, and in the Athens area schools have been closed. We learnt on Google news that Crete is particularly badly hit and up in the mountains, the snow is turning orange. I feel particularly sorry for the detailer at the Peugeot garage we called into about the indicator problems. There were hundreds of brand new cars on the forecourt, covered in dust. What a job he will have to get all those cars looking clean again.

The 25th of March is a public holiday. This is the main reason we came to this large town. Finally aided by Russia, Britain and France, after an 8year struggle Greece was finally recognised as Independent from the Ottoman Empire and in 1832. Prince Otto of Bavaria was established as the first king of Greece. Every year the lots of the population dress in national costumes and joined by representatives of the Greek armed forces, the rescue services and even the scouting fraternity join marches all over Greece. Those dressed in medieval fighting costumes fire very loud guns to celebrate their victory. It was quite rousing to witness the appreciation the armed forces got as they marched by. Every spectator was loudly clapping all the armed services as they went through the town.
When the railway that came into the centre of Kalamata was closed due to the bankruptcy of the company that ran it in 2010 many of the old trains and carriages were left as memorials in the park. It is quite fascinating to walk up to the centre, passed the old station with the rolling stock all around. The park is a photographer’s dream.

The central street of the city is very modern and looks very affluent. The shame is that you only have to go a few streets either side to see the evidence of the perilous state of the Greek economy. Empty and abandoned wrecks of buildings can be seen in nearly every street. Old motorbikes and scooters with parts missing or torn seats are just left to rot in the street and in amongst the decent cars parked along the streets are lots that surely haven’t been driven for many years, looking at the state they are in. On the plus side, the Greek people we have had contact with have all been great and many of them speak enough English to make visiting here very easy. It is really nice when driving through villages and towns to have people smile and wave to us and we always reciprocate by waving back to them.

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In Kalamata there is the impressive cathedral and we lost count as to how many churches of every size we saw around the town. On every road, all over the country, every mile or so, we have seen these little religious boxes complete with oil lamps, religious pictures and small crucifixes. Obviously, the Greeks are very religious people; it seemed odd that the council men were out working on a Sunday emptying the communal rubbish bins.

We waited with Brian and Wendy until their part was ordered. We had been told by people from the marina that we had to drive south to go and explore the area called Outer Mani and Inner Mani and to go to the caves at Pyrgos Diros.


29/03/2018 Agios Nikoliaos
We left the Marina and drove 31 miles down to this lovely, little coastal town and parked up on the car park directly adjacent to the very picturesque harbour.

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The weather now is warm, and the sun is shining so we quickly locked up and went off to investigate what is there. We found some very inviting bars and shops, so we decided to stay the night on the car park and to move on down to the caves tomorrow. We had just moved the van away from the sea wall in case the sea got up when Dennis and Kim rolled into the car park and came and parked close to us. They had parked on the Marina for a couple of days. We told them we were stopping there for the night, so they said they would as well. The four of us went off to the nicest looking bar. Later on, they came back into our van and Dennis brought in some different bottles of Ouzo that he had bought on Kalamata. We slept well that night once the pair had gone back to their van
30/03/2018 Pyrgos Diros
We only had 36 miles to do to get down to the caves at Pyrgos Diros. So, off the four of us went. 36 miles doesn’t sound a lot but driving in Greece is completely different. Windy, narrow roads which narrowed even more every time you get to drive through a village means everywhere is a long way away. There must be money in this part of Greece. We kept passing lots of very smart houses or others that were in the process of being renovated. Also, the verges and the fields around are covered in wild flowers and lots of trees are covered in blossom. This is the best part of Greece we have seen so far. This is paradise.
We parked up in the car park for the caves and after paying our €6 euro each went down to the entrance and were led to a boat to take us the first part underground in a pretty, blue boat paddled by a Greek guide.

Once out of the boat; the rest was of the way was by foot and we followed the path marvelling at the stalagmites and stalactites. A Little more thought about introducing some coloured lights instead of the too bright white lights would have made it and even more wonderful experience.
Our stop for the night is going to be in the next bay round from the caves. We could see a few other vans, but it took 6km to get to where they are. The reviews about this bay say that it is a wonderful place to go snorkelling because of the wonderful variety of fish that can be seen. Someone even talked about swimming with a sea turtle in this very bay.

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In no time I was changed and was ready to dive to see what wonders I could find. I even took my new underwater camera, so I could share my experience with Elaine. Nothing! Not a sighting of anything! I “snorkelled” for so long, up and down the bay and ended up with the prune effect on my fingers. To make matters worse, the waves had got up and I was buffeted about as I tried to get out of the water, very conscious that I was being watched by Elaine, Dennis, Kim, and the Germans parked a little way away. I have to be honest I must have looked like a beached whale.

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I did my utmost to look like a seasoned diver and failed. Later on, Dennis and Kim, donned some gloves and big bin bags and went up and down the beach collecting all the plastic the could find.

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I just stayed in our van until I got over the fit of shivering I had after my long swim.
31/03/2018 Gytheio
Off we went to Gytheio. It meant going down to the bottom of Inner Mani and back up the other side. We were now driving up in the mountains on the narrowest roads imaginable. Hair pin bends came, one after another. For many miles we didn’t see a crash barrier to keep us from plunging over the edge of these often, broken roads. In places you would go around such a tight bend you almost meet yourself coming the other way. The roads are so steep that immediately after going around such a bend I would have to put the van into first gear just to make progress up to the next sharp bend. Our 7meter motorhome, fully laden, is just not built for these sorts of roads. Whenever we get to a village it only gets worse. The roads through the villages would be wide enough to get the horse and cart through. We went through one village where we had a kilometre to get through where it would have been impossible to pass another vehicle had it been coming the other way. On top of that, the only way to describe a Greek driver is as a lunatic with a death wish.
Half way through our 63mile journey we came across a sign pointing towards a “ancient fortified settlement”. Vatheia is just amazing virtually the whole place is deserted, and you can wander around these abandoned tower houses at will.

The doors are open and in the deserted bar there are still complete bottles of pop. In others you can see beds and even pillows, discarded when the houses were discarded. Apparently, these tower houses were occupied by very feudal Greeks. They built their houses so tall to enable them to throw stones down at their neighbours. Beware of any Greek person trying to get planning permission, near you, to build a tallish house. When we got here Dennis and Kim had already arrived.
We moved on and the “fun journey “continued. Finally, we arrived at Gytheio and looked for somewhere to stop for the night. We had a quick look around the town and moved on to a bay to a known camper stop at the bay where you can see the wreck of Demetrius.

There are conflicting reports of how this ship came to be washed up on the sands here. The best I can find is that the ship was caught smuggling cigarettes and was set alight and abandoned here by the authorities. What a great place to stop for the night. Dennis and Kim followed a us there and we spent our last evening together as we decided to stop there for a second night and they elected to move on.

After they had gone, that next day, I checked how much gas we had left. Not a lot! So, we went off to look for a garage selling auto gas. I turned at a corner and bang: we were grounded! The road at that point was so bad that the water tank had been pushed back so far that it had broken a pipe, so all our fresh water was running out and the steel straps holding the tank in place were hanging loose. Nightmare! I managed to get the van to a safe place to stop. It took me over 4 hours on a very hot day (most of the time under the van). With the limited tools I carry with me I managed to put a bung in the tank to stop it leaking. Elaine had to sacrifice the fancy bottle stop she had bought in Spain and then whittle the cork down to fit the hole to stop the water coming out of the tank. I think the only way I got the tank straps back in place was by sheer determination Finally we got the van in a fit condition to drive it safely. I didn’t have the mental energy to drive back to the wreck. We drove a few miles onward and stopped at a campsite at Gytheio Bay that had only opened for the season that day As Elaine booked us in, I filled the water tank to the brim and watched with baited breath to see if our “temporary” repair was a good one. Not a single drop came out. We could carry on with our journey! It was very nice to be parked in amongst the olive trees and a long shower there made me feel human again.

 

Our Australian friends arrive today.

map of the Peloponnese, southern Greece

19/03/2018 Ionian Blue beach bar, Lapas

Elaine and I had driven down to this free camper stop, that we had seen on our app, that was right by the beach. We pulled in and immediately walked down to the beach, passed the beach bar to look at the sea. As we walked back, two Greek guys beckoned us over and invited us to join them. The first was a general practice doctor and he spoke great English and the second gent was older and we soon learnt that he swam in the sea from this beach most days of the year. They had seen our motorhome as they had driven in and wanted to know our story. We sat with them until they had to leave to go home for a family meal.P1010118.JPGAfter lunch Elaine and I walked all along the beach and on the way back spotted in the distance the ferry that Brain and Wendy were on its way into Patras. As we walked along the beach we saw what looked like a Dolphin washed up on the beach. All we could see was what looked like a fin pointing upwards each time a wave came in. We rushed down to see what aid we could give to this poor creature in need of our assistance. When we got there, we found that it was just a log and the fin was just a sawn-off branch.

Around 5 pm Brian and Wendy, the Aussies arrived. We went into the beach bar to toast their arrival, but the wine was so poor that we went back to our van to continue the catch up and the celebration.

20th-21st/ 03/ 2018 Aginera Beach camp site, Glifa

Please do not pass this on as I would not want to embarrass our Australian friend. As they had rushed across Italy to catch an earlier ferry crossing, their clothes washing had become a little overdue. The only way that Brian knows what day of the week it is, is by looking at logo on his underpants. He has a set of them and each one has a waist band with the day of the week it should be worn. So off we all went to a camp site where we knew we could find a washing machine so that Brian could stop thinking every day was a Saturday as that was the last pair he had worn. The pants and the rest of their washing will probably never have to be washed again. Wendy’s Greek language skills let her down. She set the washing machine going and six hours later, the washing still wasn’t finished.

We enjoyed the campsite and although the bar and restaurant were closed as it was too early in the season we enjoyed the luxury shower block where each room contained a toilet, a wash hand basin, and a shower. The next day, once Wendy had rescued her washing from the machine, we all walked along the beach to the next village whilst enjoying the warmth of the sunny day. The shame was that the beach was covered with a tremendous amount of litter and flotsam that had been washed up by the sea. We all wondered if they clear it up for when the summer season comes.

22/03/2018 Ancient Olympia car park

The first thing Brian said, when we saw him, is that it was Wednesday. So, we knew that all was right with the world. Off we went in convoy to get to Ancient Olympia. For every Olympic Games, in any country, the flame starts from here and is carried across all the countries to the cauldron where the games are to be held. This is where the whole idea of the modern Olympic Games was generated. We went to the huge site to see the actual sports field where those ancient Olympians competed against each other.

 

The start of the games was in 776 BC. In case it ever comes up on a trivia night, the first ever winner, on the only event held then, was Karoivos, a cook, who won the men’s sprinting. During the 8th and 7th BC wrestling, boxing, equestrian events, and boy’s events were added.  I just hope that the few pictures I have put here will give just a little of the preserved treasure we saw there.

We saw the temples of the many Gods and in the huge museum on the site we saw a lot of what had been excavated from all around. This is one of the richest museums in Greece.

Probably wrong, but in amongst all this amazing history there are always some thing that you can find funny. All the statues are staged in date order. In a huge hall there was a huge sculpture of Hadrian. What made his statue stand out was because his was one of the rare statues that included his head.

All I innocently remarked was that Hadrian must have been a bit special. He managed to keep his head when everyone else were losing there’s.

We went back to our van and decided to stay there for the night. Later that day, we went off to a wonderful Greek restaurant and our meal there rounded off a wonderful day.

23/03/2013 Mylos

One thing I haven’t covered is the state of the Greek roads. Let me just say, driving here certainly keeps you on your toes. I admit the responsibility. I suggested that we drive up the mountains to Andritsaina which I had read was an unspoilt small town. The old national roads are bad enough. We climbed and climbed and in places the broken tarmacked surface gave way to just a fairly wide dirt road before going back to the potholes and the broken road surfaces. The views should have been spectacular but there was a mist that hung on for most of the day. Finally, we got up to the town. People just stared at our two motorhomes as we passed by. We parked on the outskirts and this town is so unspoilt that they are obviously not used to visitors. We got some great pictures and enjoyed the warm hospitality we got in a café.

We drove on through the town to go back down the other side of the mountain. The road surfaces were much better, but we faced a much bigger danger on the way down. During the whole descent we saw lots of signs warning of falling rocks from above. They were not kidding. The side of the road was littered with, sometimes, huge rocks that have fallen from mountains. The most worrying were the rocks that had hit the road and then ended up against the crash barrier on the other side of the road. We stopped just before a bridge over a river that ran way down below the road.

There I spotted a sign telling of a byzantine bridge. I looked down and saw where the original roadway would have taken us. Thank goodness that Greece has been able to spend some money on improving its road network. Wouldn’t have fancied taking Harriet (our motorhome) over that bridge.

We finally arrived down at sea level and pulled into the car park of a large beach bar / restaurant in the village of Mylos. The four of us went in, ordered a drink, and easily got permission for us to park our two motorhomes there for the night.

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During the night, the sea got very rough indeed and massive waves came crashing towards the shore. The noise was deafening and none of us got a good night’s sleep that night. Before leaving the village, we dove to the other end to get a picture of the fairy castle we had spotted earlier.P101020924/03/2018 Fini Kaunda

The waves were still crashing in so we all agreed that our resting point this evening had to be away from the sea’s edge. We decided on our next stop would either on the port at the coastal town of Pilos or a little further on at a campsite that was open this early in their season. Our drive for that day was 72 km. It doesn’t sound a lot. It seems to take forever. The roadways are so narrow and windy and when driving through a town or a village, the locals just pull up where they want to be and just stop. Double parking so that the road way is virtually blocked is the norm. It is all fun really and our skills at getting our motorhomes through narrow places are getting lots of practice.

We got to Camping Thines which was right on the beach. Although it says this campsite is open all year there were major refurbishments going on all over the site. Being realistic, they will be fully ready for next season. Still, it is Greece, so we decided to stop for just the one night. The village that is very near the camp is just as bad. There are signs that work is being done to get the bars and cafés ready for the tourist season. Some will open on time but by the look of it, most will not be any where near ready.

Being as kind as I can, an awful lot of what we see in Greece can best be described as shabby chic. At least the beach in front of Camping Thines has been cleared of all the rubbish and broken wood but either side of the cleared area and there it all is. It makes you wonder if any one has any pride in the country they live in. All we have seen in the short time we have been here is evidence of mass fly tipping in what otherwise would be beautiful countryside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now down in the Peloponnese, Southern Greece

map of the Peloponnese, southern Greece

12/03/2018 Still at Stobrec, Split, Croatia

Went into Split today, by bus. We have seen this city before so spent a lot of time down at the waterfront and around the market which is right by the very well preserved Roman buildings. Even though I have lots of pictures from our previous time spent here, I just couldn’t resist taking a few more.

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14/03/2018

We left the friendly camp site at three in the afternoon to drive down to the ferry port. We didn’t start boarding until seven in the evening so got a great sunset picture over the city.

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Our two ferry crossings were as smooth as anything. This first journey, from Split in Croatia to Ancona, was on, relatively, quite a small ferry. Our en-suite cabin felt not much bigger than our wardrobe at home. It is the first time, since I was a child, that I had to sleep on a top bunk. I tried to persuade Elaine that I should sleep on the lower bunk as me climbing ladders is not such a good idea after my accident some years ago. That idea went down like a lead balloon. I offered to arm wrestle for the prime position, but Elaine refused the challenge. She just sat on the lower bed and refused to budge until I had conceded.

15/08/ 2018

In the morning, we went down to vehicle deck once the ferry had berthed, to find the vehicles packed so close together that it was a real squeeze to get to our van passed all the lorries parked around it. Fingers crossed that the next ferry taking us down to Greece will be a little bigger. We were in Ancona very early and we had to drive about a mile to go to the ticket office to get our boarding pass and other paperwork. We were almost the first vehicle in the queue and our ferry for Greece was not due to leave until 2 pm. We just chilled and a little later I walked out of the port and crossed the road to go and have a look around the city.

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Despite reports that there was nothing much to see, I was quite impressed, and enjoyed looking around the shops and the indoor and street market.

Finally, we got to see the size of the ferry that would take us down to Patras as it backed towards us, to tie up. This was more like it.

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This was easily twice the size of the previous ship. The ticket office had given us a sign to put in our windscreen saying we were staying on the ferry all the way to Patras instead of the getting off at the first stop on the mainland of Greece. They put us on a higher deck which meant driving up quite a steep slope and was glad I didn’t have to stop half way up. One inside we finally got to see the cabin and we were both very pleased. This cabin was much more modern, and I could have swung a cat around quite easily.

I will say that, to me, ferry crossings are a means to an end. To get us from A to B. The fact that the sea was being so kind was a great help. We passed the time reading our kindles and playing Rummikub and Qwirkle, our new game. There was a coach load of older kids who, in the evening, got very loud. The more mature looking male specimens  spent their time chasing the girls around the ship whilst others sat around the table next to ours playing an Italian version of snap. The noise and distractions were my excuse as to why Elaine was so successful in each of our games we played.

16/03/2018 Between Aigio and Diakofto

During the night all we had to contend with was a very slight, constant vibration and then at 02.30 we were both woken by two youths excitedly trying to wake the girls in the cabin opposite ours. Lucky for them it was me and not Elaine who told them to keep it quiet. Finally 2 pm arrived and we were called down to our vehicles.

With the help from a lot of EU funding, the Greek transport structure is undergoing a lot of major reconstruction. New railway lines and motorways are causing our recently updated sat-nav to have lots of wobbly moments. We came out of Patra in the Athens direction for about 55 km. We were off to a little 10 euro a night camper stop using the old National road and we could already see why all the improvements are necessary.

It is a delightful little site right by the sea and we spent the evening in the company of Yannis and Melina the owners, and learnt lots about Greece and the local area. Yannis kindly offered to book for the next day the Rack Railway trip up to the mountain to the town of Kalavryta.

When we got back to the van we found a message from our Australians friends Brian and Wendy. They were not due to arrive in Greece until the 22nd but when they heard what we were doing rushed to Ancona changed their tickets and they arrive in Patras this Sunday

17/03/2018

We drove to Diakfto and found the little station. Yannis told us that people come from all over Greece to ride this famous little, narrow gauge railway. It has a special system so that when the slope exceeds 10% it moves on the rack rails to haul it up or slow it down when descending.

It crosses beautiful scenery, the Vouraikos Gorge with its many waterfalls and fast flowing water up to a town with a tragic history and the journey is 22 km and takes an hour. In places the rails run through the mountain and in other places there are massive drops down to the raging river that runs much of the length of the railway. All the way up all I could think was how-on-earth was this built and then I read that it was built in 1895. Amazing!

It truly is the most dramatic ride. The scenery is spectacular and the mountains towered above us on the way up to the top. Kalavryta the town at the top of the track is a fascinating place. In a local monastery in 1821 the Greek Revolution was started. A truly tragic, historical event happened in the evening of the 13th of December 1943 the Germans rounded all the town folk in retaliation for the capture of some German soldiers who were held in the school. All males in the town over the age of 13 were taken to a ridge and killed. The women and the younger children were herded into the church which was then set alight. Some managed to escape the conflagration. The Germans then set the school alight which was totally destroyed. We went to the museum which is dedicated to this holocaust.

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The town is also a ski centre. There are lots of shops selling local products and was very busy with tourists despite it being very early in the season.

picture.JPGWe were very lucky, on the way back down to have been allocated seats right behind the driver which gave us a view as to just how the train was operated. Later in the afternoon, we returned to Yannis and Melina’s campsite after having had an excellent start to our Greek holiday.

Google news item prompts big change in our plans

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07/03/2018 Senj, Croatia

We were up early as the peaceful site suddenly got a little noisy as a gang of workers turned up to do the gardens and add supports for the trees. So, we took advantage, got ourselves ready and headed in to town of Koper. Later we returned to the van and moved out of the superb camperstop to head off down to Croatia.

The first part of the journey took us back into the mountains and although the roads were completely clear, the whole countryside was covered by deep layers of snow and looked very picturesque.

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We passed signs warning of bears and wolves. We then got to the border and as we are so used to Schengen borders where you just drive through that we did not have our passports ready to show the border officer. She was quite miffed we made her wait and then gave the passports such a perfunctory look, that made the whole exercise a waste of time. She hadn’t even seen Elaine who was in the back tidying everything back after the search for the passports. I gave the guard both passports and all she said was “oh, there are two of you”. She opened both and then handed them straight back.

We had been through quite a few tunnels on the way. Just after the border we went through a huge mountain. The tunnel went on for just under a mile. When we got to the end we were gobsmacked, the surrounding snow had virtually disappeared. Slovenia snow, Croatia no snow! The road finally descended to sea level and we had completed our 111mile journey, for the day, as we drove into Senj. We took a right at the roundabout for the campsite only to find two workers digging a drain across the entrance. They shrugged to imply that the camp was closed. Free camping is not allowed in Croatia, so we drove back up the road to a restaurant with their own large car park.

Elaine went in and got their permission for us to stop for the night.

08th -14th /03/2017 Storbrec, Split

Rather than meander all the way down the coast we decided to take the toll road. We had the most beautiful, scenic drive back up into the mountains for about 12 miles, so we could get to the motorway. The road snaked its way upwards and every little while we would see a sign saying “Serpentina”.

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It meant that the road turned immediately back almost upon itself and these were definitely, second gear turns. When we arrived at the toll station Elaine, immediately, leaned out the window to get the ticket having pressed the lowest button and we were on our way on the motorway.

When we got to our turn off for Split, Elaine handed the ticket to the man in the toll booth and the price came up in euros and Kuna (the Croatian currency). Our journey cost us about £22. There was very little traffic using the motorway and for long stretches we seemed to be the only vehicle on the road.

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From start to finish our days drive has been 192 miles and we pulled into Camping Split in the small town of Stobrec. We have been here before and it is right by the sea. The site is open all the year round and in the off season they have a special rate of 12 euros a night plus a little bit of council visitor tax. For this we get the pitch, free internet ,and a wrist band that we use to pay for up to 3 free showers a day. There is a restaurant and bar, a shop and everything that we need. The small town of Stobrec is just a short walk away and Split is easy to get to by bus.

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It is quite mild, and the sun is shining. It is the best weather we have had for quite some time. We will explore the area and of course spend a day in Split. Elaine’s normal start to the day is to stay in bed, drink the tea that I have made for her, whilst catching up on the news on her smart phone. She alerted me to an article about extensive flooding in Montenegro, Macedonia and northern Albania were particularly badly hit.

It said that torrential rain and melting snow had caused deaths and devastation and to add to it, in Albania, the authorities had had to allow a lot of water through a dam to relieve pressure on the structure. We looked at some of the pictures of mud slides, vast flooded areas and broken roads. We read all the articles and had a lot of sympathy for all the people affected and according to the internet, it is a problem that occurs quite frequently.

So, it became quite clear that we had to change our plans quite drastically. Even though we had gotten all the way down to Split in Croatia we could not follow our original plan. We found that only cars could travel on the ferry from Dubrovnik to Greece. We spent the morning on the computer and on the phone and we have managed to get two ferry tickets.

map of our two ferry journeys

The first will take us to Ancona in Italy from here in Split, on the 14th March, arriving on the morning of the 15th. The second ticket will take us to Patra in Greece. The ferry leaves on the same day and from the same port and we will arrive on the 16th. There is no upset on our part, this minor inconvenience is nothing like the people in these countries are having to put up with. It is all part of travelling and we have been able to find a way to continue our adventure without having to drive all the way, back into Italy. It just means that we will get to enjoy the delights of Greece much earlier than we expected.

Our tour down to Greece has now taken us into Slovenia (at last we are heading south)

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26/02/2018 – 04/03/2018

For those that live in the UK, I know will not give us a lot of sympathy, but the weather has turned foul for us as well. All of Europe has been affected by the biting winds that have come from Russia and the nice sounding Storm Emma that has blasted its way across from America. On top of all that we know we started our journey northward from Spain too early. We should have waited until Spring had properly settled in before attempting to cross Italy on our way down to Greece. On top of that, we had left our crystal ball behind that would have warned us about the “Beast from the East”.

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26/02/2018 Mandelieu la Napule, France

We left Montpellier and had a quite normal journey to the coastal town of Mandelieu la Napule until we got to the last part which took us down a windy, narrow road, from high up in the mountains down to sea level and our intended nights stop. Even though the road was fairly clear of snow, it was quite a perilous journey, with the white stuff everywhere and the wind blowing a gale.

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All the roads in the town were covered in snow so we had a few anxious moments as we drove to a campsite for a two-night stay to give the weather a chance to clear a little. We ventured into town but were soon sent scurrying back to shelter in the warmth of our van.

28/02/2018 Albenga, Italy

We were up early as we were well rested and were delighted to see the snow around us had disappeared and the wind had calmed down. We checked on the weather forecasts and Elaine gave us the thumbs up that we could move on. After 111 miles we turned up at our intended campsite only to find it was closed. We found a farm site which luckily was open, so we pulled in for the one night and there was only one other motor home on this small site. Presumably, everyone else were too sensible to be travelling about in the terrible weather.

Next morning the snow was still thick on the ground, so we decided to stay for another night. Later that day it started raining and the gales abated so Elaine and I had a quick look around the town but mainly spent the time planning our journey, playing Scrabble and Rummikub and just relaxing.

02/03/2018 Savona, Italy

Thursday the weather looked better and the forecasts didn’t look to bad Elaine and I had decided that to speed up our journey across Italy we would take the toll roads. The viamichelin website was telling us that our journey to Venice would take us about 11 hours if we stayed off the toll roads and under 6 hours if we went on the paid motorways. The cost was going to be €90 so we changed the settings on the satnav to get the quicker route.

In no time we were at the start of the motorway and Elaine pressed the button at the toll booth to get our ticket. Away we went. In France and Italy, I can drive the motorhome at 130km per hour, so we started to eat up the miles. Strangely, there were almost no other cars or commercial vehicles on the road. The road started to climb, and we went through quite a few tunnels, some long and some short. The scary thing was that at the end of lots of these tunnels would find us on a viaduct where fierce cross winds felt like they could blow us into the valleys below. On top of that, now we were higher, we came across accumulations of snow on the road.

Next, we came across a stationary lorry on the inside lane. That articulated vehicle was the last in a continuous line of parked commercial vehicles that went on for miles. We found at the start of the queue the police had stopped the HGVs because of the perilous road conditions.

I was very grateful indeed to come across an exit that wasn’t blocked, and I carefully exited and with great care drove back down to sea level. Elaine managed to find a camper stop just on the outskirts of Savona. We had travelled, precisely, 29 miles and was very relieved that that long drive was over with the van still intact.

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The castle in Savona

The snow on the beach and the patient fisherman

For two days, we barely left the van as the weather was so bad. I braved the snow to walk into Savona to find a bank and found it easier to walk back along the beach than on the slushy pavements. Mainly we stayed in Harriet, our motor home. It is good that times like this do not upset us; it is just part of travelling. You must take the rough with the smooth.

04/03/2018 Venice

I am not sure that we have much faith we have in weather forecasters after the last week but this morning we could see for ourselves that the wind had died down and the big thaw had done its work and the rain had washed away most traces of the snow. At the toll booth, I told Elaine to reach down as far as she could to reach the lowest button to get our toll ticket. I thought she was going to fall out of the window and I would have to grab hold of her legs to save her. She came up triumphantly with the ticket in hand, but she was confused by my request.

Savona to Venice

The first part of our journey took us up the windy, two lane motorways, through tunnel after tunnel as we climbed way above seal level, meandering round and through the mountains. The weather conditions were great. Then the motorway turned into a three-lane highway and we really flew across Italy. At last we came to the turn off for Venice and the toll booths. Elaine got two fifty euro notes ready to pay the bill for the 270 miles of toll road use. She fed the ticket into the machine. On the screen it told us we owed €33.80. Result!!!! WWW.viamichelin had told us it would be 90 euros. Is it my fault the machine thought we had driven across in a car and not our 7m motorhome? There was no-one to explain that there was an error and we owed more. Now Elaine understood her dive for the lowest button.

We arrived at Camping Venezia and will stay here for two days. This site is just a short bus ride from the fabulous city and has the best bathrooms of any campsite we have ever been on. Neither of us have ever enjoyed a shower so much with the luxurious warmth of these modern rooms. They play fantastic English music that makes you want to stay in there all day!

Monday still at Venice

We were getting ourselves ready to go out when we got a knock on our door. It was the owner of the only other English van on the campsite. It was Gareth, from Gateshead so we invited him in for coffee. He had just driven down from the ski slopes in the Dolomites where it was -15 degrees at night. His van was a self-build and didn’t have double glazed windows. He was driving from ski slope to ski slope as this was his passion. What a boost to our egos when we told him of our passed trips and our plans and he said we were an inspiration to him. In comparison, I just think he must have the best wife in the world, who is happy to stay at home while he enjoys himself on the ski slopes of Italy. What peace he must have! LOL.

We knew it would rain later today but we caught the bus into Venice. We have been before, but we had to see it now. Now we would see it without a beautiful sunlit background. Despite the weather there were lots of tourists but nothing like we had seen before.

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We crossed the Rialto bridge quite easily and were surprised just how high the water level was in the canals. In places the water was lapping onto the streets. I think our biggest shock was to see the new feature in St Marks Square.

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P1000247 Much to the delight of the gulls, there is now a huge lake straight down the centre and there is a make-shift bridge to allow folk to cross the magnificent square without getting their feet wet. Note to self….next visit bring wellington boots.

By lunchtime it had started to rain.and because of the flooding in the square, we couldn’t get to one of the magnificent restaurants that borders the square. We had checked the bank account and had decided that we were going to push the boat out and go “a la carte” and to hell with the expense. Every restaurant we passed were filled with diners. We needed to get indoors. So, we got down with the kids! For the first time, for as long as I can remember, we entered a McDonald’s. Please don’t tell anybody!! We had to go on a machine and use the various buttons to order our food. I couldn’t bring myself to order a Big Mac, so I pressed the buttons to get a chicken wrap and Elaine opted for a chicken burger and fries. I was wearing my sunglasses, despite the weather, just in case we were recognised.P1000241.JPGWhen I bought the tray to our table Elaine told me I had forgotten the cutlery. She then spotted that everyone was shoving their food in using their fingers. So, we didn’t stand out from the crowd, what could we do but join them?

We have had a great day and will leave it here with a few pictures that I have taken to remember our day.

06/02/2018 Koper, Slovenia

The rain has been constant. All night it has been as though 50 pigeons, wearing clogs, have been dancing energetically on our roof. To add to the noise, the big drops from the tree above us have fallen, intermittently, onto our satellite dish. No symbol player in an orchestra could make such a loud noise as each large drop descended to add to the crescendo. Considering all of this, neither Elaine or I, had too bad a night’s sleep. With all this rain, no wonder we had seen parts of Venice under water.

When we were ready, we left this fabulous campsite and after a food shopping expedition, we set off to Slovenia. The only key feature of the journey was the constant, depressing grey skies and the endless rain. The price of fuel in Italy is high! I had looked at the Slovenian price of diesel which was much lower. Could I manage to cross the border with what I had left in the tank? I knew it was going to be close. Here I must, publicly, apologise to Elaine. I caused her great anguish, every time she looked over to see the needle on the fuel gauge hovering around the empty mark whilst we had still some miles to cover. Elaine insists here that I tell you all that at the end, once the van had, finally got us to a fuel station that I only saved 25 euro cents a litre.

We had headed for Koper as it is a coastal town, and this is an area of Slovenia we haven’t visited before. There is a huge port and approaching the town we passed field after field of closely parked new cars and car transporters were everywhere to be seen.

The excitement wasn’t over. We pulled up outside a council ran camper stop. We read the information on the machine. Simple really, we just had to put 10 euros onto a “Koper???” card to gain entrance to a very modern looking, fenced off area with all the facilities we could hope for. Except, the machine didn’t say where you got the card from. Finally, I found the local bus station, put 10 euros onto a card and that was that. We have the whole site to ourselves. To cap it all; it has finally stopped raining.

 

 

 

 

 

Our 2017/2018 tour from Spain through Eastern Europe and down to Greece

Our Tour

19/02/2018 Calpe, Spain,

We have said our goodbyes to Wendy and Brian, the Aussies’ friends. Whilst camped there we met Dave and Pauline, friends of theirs, and the six of us have been out- and- about together. We will definitely meet up with this new pair sometime in the future. They are English but live in Northern France, not too far from Cherbourg.

P1000145We drove 14 miles northward and pulled into Calpe. Calpe is like Benidorm as chalk is to cheese. What a beautiful place. We are now parked in Calle Finlandia, a street just up from the beach and there are about another 30 motorhomes either side of the road. It is a beautiful day, so we set off to explore the town. There is a mighty rock outcrop called the Penon de Ifach which towers over the bay and is the nesting place for many birds. We headed towards the rock along the promenade and unlike Benidorm, we didn’t see one noisy bar. All along were nice shops and Spanish restaurants. Other than people on the beautiful beach we only saw one man walking along the front without a shirt even though it was a gloriously, sunny day. We walked round the base of the rock and followed the promenade alongside as far as we could go.

P1000150.JPGWay up on the side of the rock face we spotted some intrepid young people climbing up quite a sheer side and thought rather them than me.

The promenade didn’t take us all the way round the front of the bay, so we stopped at the end and watched a boat that was waiting around for some divers that kept popping up and when they weren’t on the surface you could follow their progress by watching the bubbles from their air tanks. P1000155.JPGA nearby sign told us that there is an underwater trail along the sea bed for divers to follow. As we headed back to get lunch near the harbour we kept an eye on the climbers. All was good with them so far.

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After lunch we walked back around the bay and near the end of the beach we spotted a walkway that would take us towards a beach bar the we could see in the distance. The path took us up and then all along the front of all the large houses above us and we passed small bay after small bay. The path meandered all along the cliff edge and finally we reached the bar. What a disappointment. They must have the slowest kettle in the world. When we arrived, we asked the waitress for two cups of tea. A quarter of an hour later, we reminded the girl and she said it was on its way. After twenty-five minutes, we left, because we decided it would be quicker to walk all the way back to the van, to put the kettle on for ourselves. By now, we should be used to the Spanish “manana” style of service; but all we wanted were our reviving cups of tea.

When we got back we learnt that the English van that was now parked opposite us had been broken into when they we parked in a quiet spot by the lighthouse. It will be pretty off putting for the couple as they haven’t had their motorhome long and it was their first trip abroad. While the were away some “nice” people had forced a window of their motorhome and stolen some of their property. Let it be a reminder to us all to take care where park our beloved vans.

20/02/2018 Castellon de la Plana

From Calpe we drove 145 miles further North and reached Castellon de la Plana. We both agreed that we would spend as much of this week “wild” camping so we headed for an aire that we found from one of our favourite source of overnight stopping points, Park for the Night. When we arrived, there were the promised free facilities like free overnight parking (for two nights only), free water and drainage and the town even provided a week Wi-Fi signal and quite a clean toilet and at the top of the site there were some picnic benches for the motor homer’s use

The aire was right by the beach and the town itself was about 8km away so we asked a Spanish man where we could catch a bus as it was too far to walk. He waved his hands about a lot and spoke many Spanish words and on our non-understanding, he raised his voice a lot. I think we do that to try to make a foreigner understand us? He was trying to help so we thanked him and smiled to each other. We found a bus stop and we tried again with a “Spanish” lady who was waiting for the bus herself. It turned out she was French so communication became much easier. She was going right to the centre itself, so she said she would signal us when we had to get off the bus. When we were there she pointed out which way to go to find the cathedral and other places of interest.We wandered around following the map we got from the tourist information bureau. To be perfectly honest, we found the town a little bit of a disappointment and all the information on the map was in Spanish, so we didn’t really know what we were looking at. In the centre of a large square was a large stone, double sided sculpture but there was no explanation what was being depicted.

P1000166 The cathedral had a separate tall, bell tower which we could understand was used once to keep an eye out for invading pirates. So why it was in the middle of the town, approximately 5 miles from the coast will always remain a mystery.

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We failed to find out who the artist was as the map didn’t mention the bronze at all. We had a quick look around the shopping area and spotted this colourful scene, high up, at the end of a row of buildings. We are glad we went to see what was there, but it wasn’t too long before we were catching the bus back to the beach.

21/02/2018 Sitges (The police came knocking!)

174 miles drive further up the coast has found us at Sitges which we loved right up until 9.30 that evening when the police came knocking on our door. Again, the Park for the Night app had given us the coordinates of a very tried and trusted motorhome, overnight parking place right on the beach front, about a mile from the centre of the town. As soon as we parked up, just behind another English van, we eagerly walked along the wide promenade to get us into this fascinating town. Sitges is located about 35km south of Barcelona, and has seventeen beaches, various lively nightspots, and an annual International film festival.

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The town is in the autonomous community of Catalonia and protest flags and the odd graffiti can easily be seen. Once a sleepy fishing village, Sitges developed a reputation as a centre for Catalan art sometime in the late 19thcentury, so lots of painters, writers, sculptors and musicians set up home in the town. Sitges is a quaint town with whitewashed buildings, narrow streets and a lengthy seafront esplanade. The town is considered to be the gay capital of Spain. The Rainbow flag (the gay pride flag) flies from many houses.

Sitges is a photographer’s dream location and I got lots of practice with my new camera and I am going to let the pictures tell the story of what we found there. We decided that there was so much to see that we would stop another day here, so we walked back along the esplanade. We had a nice chat with the English couple in the van in front of ours and then settled down for the evening and continued with our Rummikub tournament. For once, I was having a fairly successful time when, at 9.30 pm we heard a loud rapping at our door. It was two policemen. To be fair, they were quite polite about it, but with a limited English vocabulary, one kept saying it was not possible to stay here and we must move to another street. We asked why but the answer came back the same.

We watched the other vans around us drive off; I had to drive very carefully to a street just up from the beach, so I didn’t disturb the tiles spread out over the board. I was doing really well in this game so didn’t want to start again. I will admit, if I had been losing I would have taken the corners quicker. It was a shame that, in a way, the day had been spoilt. We both decided that we would move on instead of the extra day here.

22/02/2018 Roses (near Figueres, Spain)

The weather forecasts do not look too good for the next little while and the temperatures in northern Spain look to take a big dip. In view of this and our want to get south as soon as possible, we have decided to speed up our travels. The plan now is to race through France and Italy as we done a lot in these countries on previous tours.

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We left Sitges and took the road northward out of town. As usual we ignored the sign for the toll road. Almost immediately we entered a narrow two-way road with concrete walls on our side. There were orange reflectors every ten meters sticking out making the wall on our side look even more menacing. I didn’t actually clock the mileage, but I think we travelled about 10 miles on this, the windiest road I have ever travelled on. The road been cut out of the side of the cliffs and followed every contour for the complete length. If I had been driving a car I would have loved the experience but our 7meter long motorhome was not the ideal vehicle for such a road. As soon as we started, all I could think was, mustn’t scratch the side of the van and why hadn’t we taken the toll road.

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We encountered strong side winds for the rest of the 157mile journey so was very pleased to pull in to the carpark of the castle at Roses which was going to be our resting point for the night. Roses is passed Figueres and from here the French border was quite close. I got out of the van to take a picture of the harbour way below us and had a job standing, the wind was so strong.

P100020523,24/02/2018 Port Vendre, France

After an early start, we drove back to just before Figueres and then turned right and the border to France was just a little further on. Both sides of the border have shopping complexes and we headed to the huge outlet stores just on the Spanish side of the border called La Jonquera. “Ladies of the night” could be seen on the roads around the border area and huge clubs (brothels) are situated around the vast lorry parks. The prices of the clothes were too good to resist and we both returned to the van with bulging shopping bags and a lighter wallet.

Once through the border we completed the 53mile drive of the day and pulled into the police aire de camping car, 1km walk from the town centre of Port Vendre.

Here we spent two days and had two great evenings with my friend Paul who has lived in France for ten years. Thank you, Paul for your hospitality. We like Port Vendre and enjoyed the market and bought some superb cheese which made a great lunch when combined with the French bread we bought from the boulangerie. Elaine has got lots of information about Paul’s driving holiday around Poland which will be invaluable when we eventually get there.

25/02/2018 Campsite near Montpelier

We have had a great run today and it has only taken us just under three hours to drive the 144miles to get to Camping Altea, a 15euros a night campsite. The sun is shining, and Elaine has just announced that the washing is drying nicely in the warm sunshine and we will be able to leave tomorrow. It is quite refreshing to have the afternoon relaxing after the busy, last few days.

We will have one more day in France. Tomorrow we will head for Mandelieu la Napoule before crossing the border into Italy. At this rate we will be in Slovenia by Friday. Elaine says we are legging” it. I think that is a quaint Yorkshire expression for travelling quickly.