Sunday, 20 May 2018

Farewell to Greece

 

 

16th May 2018

 

I’m writing this on the ferry from Igoumenitsa to Ancona although I’m not sure when I will have WiFi next to allow me to post it. (Update, finally found some WiFi today 20th May). Italy to the west and Croatia to our east so we’re about half way on the journey. We had originally booked our tickets to return on the 12th June but as we drove around Greece and despite our best efforts to drive over mountains to discover new places we found that we ultimately ended up in places we had visited before. Not that those places aren’t beautiful or charming but perhaps we have become a little jaded after visiting Greece three times before and coupled with the fact that we’ve been away from England since last September and we’re missing friends and family we decided to leave early. We contacted the Minoan lines and changed our return date to the 15th May at no extra charge which was helpful. A day or so before the sailing date they sent us a message telling us that they had changed the ship and sailing date and we would now sail at 2am rather than 1am, a nuisance but not the end of the world. We arrived at the terminal last night and noticed on the departure board that the original ship was listed with the original departure time. When we presented our documents at the desk we were politely informed that we should have departed the previous day! However this was not a problem, they would put us on that night’s ship, again at no extra charge. This is the second time we have arrived a day late for this ferry, for some bizarre reason which I am unable to explain.

 

We left Agios Andreas about ten days ago and headed to Finikes campsite (N36.802779 E21.780834), just outside Finikouda. We’ve stopped here a couple of times before and it’s a great location with a wide sandy beach and Spiros, the owner, was pleased to see us. We made use of the washing machine and relaxed for a few days before heading north again. Katakola was our next stop and it’s a strange place. It’s a stopping point for the big cruise ships and so has countless harbour side restaurants and two long streets full of shops selling upmarket clothes and jewellery as well as the usual tourist trinkets. There are coach trips to Olympia and horse drawn carriages which will take you around the town. When we arrived in the evening just about everywhere was closed, there were no ships in the harbour and we had no problems parking up with another half dozen or so motorhomes. But the next morning when two massive cruise ships arrived and disgorged their passengers the place was crazy; thirty or so coaches taking people off to Olympia and the shops all open and the staff imploring you to enter with a soundtrack of horse drawn carriages and music from the beer bike. Obviously the passengers are cruising “all inclusive” so the restaurants don’t see as much business as they would like and although they are all busy it’s mainly coffees, snacks and beers with very few people having a full meal.

 

We decided to eat out that evening and found a small family restaurant in one of the back streets that looked busy with Greek customers. We checked that they were open in the evening and as we had been in greece for three weeks and hadn’t yet had a moussaka checked that it would be available. Yes to both questions. Later that evening we returned, ordered a couple of salads, two portions of moussaka and half a litre of the house wine. We’d been looking forward to the meal all afternoon and to say it was a disappointment would be to put it mildly. Eating in Greece is a relaxed affair with neither customers or staff in any particular hurry but usually the food and wine is fresh, tasty and presented with a smile. Our meal failed on all counts. Still, its the first poor meal we’ve ever had in Greece so I suppose it had to happen some time. We parked overnight on the harbour (N37.645352 E21.318258) with electricity and water for €5, there are showers and toilets available but they were pretty scruffy but ok for cassette emptying.

 

From Katakola we headed to Patras, over the newish road bridge (€13) and on to Messalonghi a town with some history. In 1822 during the Greek War of Independence the town came under siege from the Turkish and Egyptian forces. The first attack was repelled but the second siege in 1825 lasted a year before the remaining 10,500 inhabitants attempted to flee the city. Their plan was betrayed  to the enemy and during this evacuation many were slaughtered. There is a Hero’s Park with memorials to many of the military men and women from this period including Lord Byron who fought in the war as a Captain in the Greek army. The local history museum which is free and well worth a visit has a whole floor dedicated to the soldier and poet who gave his fortune, talent and ultimately his life for the Greek struggle and he is a massive hero in the area. After his death his body was returned to England but his heart was retained and is in a Cenotaph in the Hero’s Park. As a result of the heroism demonstrated by the people of Messalonghi it was declared the Sacred City (Hiera Polis), the only such City in Greece.

We stayed on the harbour for free where there is a water tap (N38.361479 E21.425657). There is further parking 4km along the causeway amongst the salt water lagoons at Tourlida where a variety of wading birds are to be found.

 

The next day we set off for Arta for no other reason than it has a Byzantine castle and we hadn’t been there before. We parked in a massive free car park on the edge of town (N39.167768 E20.986300), 5 minutes walk to the castle, a pretty pedestrianised area with, as usual plenty of cafes and an indoor market where we bought a couple of trout for tea costing all of €4.50. The castle was a bit of a disappointment as it was undergoing renovation and there was nothing to see and the grounds were all barriered off.

 

Next stop Ammoudia, one of our favourite places in Greece, where we park next to a wide sandy beach, where the sea  remains shallow for at least fifty metres and with the river Acheron behind us (N39.236292 E20.479428) It really is an idyllic spot. The village has a population of a few hundred folk with fishing and tourism the only activities. At this time of year there are few tourists but the small fishing boats chug along the river, out to sea and back again for most of the day and evening. The village was completely destroyed and burnt down during WW2 and so there are no old buildings but the ones that have subsequently been built are all low rise and colourful and at this time of the year many are being repainted and spruced up in preparation for holiday makers. The only downside for us in a motorhome is the lack of facilities. We have previously found water from the beach showers but they were turned off this time and there is nowhere to empty our cassette which limits the amount of time we can stop. When we arrived there was an English couple there who had been there for ten days. I shudder to think where they got rid of their waste. We stopped a couple of nights and then headed fifteen miles north to Kalami Beach campsite (N39.473684 E20.240380), just 10 minutes from the ferry at Igoumenitsa with the intention of stopping a couple of nights before we left Greece. But it wasn’t cheap, €22.50 per night, and when we asked if we could leave later than the 2pm departure time because our ferry left at 1am they wanted to charge us another half day. There was a tiny shingle beach and nothing else to see or do for miles and miles so we stopped one night rather than the two and a half days intended and then headed back to Ammoudia. 

 

When we arrived at the campsite I asked if the restaurant would be open that evening and was told it would be, I asked if they would have moussaka on the menu and again the reply was yes. Great, we thought, another chance to have a decent moussaka. The restaurant was open from 6 to 9pm and we got there at about 8 after listening to the commentary of Arsène Wenger’s last game in charge of Arsenal. “One Greek salad, one Aubergine salad and two portions of moussaka parakalor”. Sorry, moussaka all gone. Ok, meatballs please. Sorry, no meatballs. We went back to our house on wheels and had a lasagne.

 

So, that’s it for Greece, we’ve enjoyed our month here. Athens was a highlight and on reflection we should have spent longer than a couple of days there. We crammed a lot into those two days but there was plenty more to see. Ioannina is a lovely city and the drive on the motorway from Igoumenitsa when we first landed was great as it took us through a series of tunnels, nineteen in all with the longest at 3.6 kilometres. The first time we came to Greece we took the route over the mountains which took us nearly all day! The drive from Plaka to the Lidl just outside Sparta was spectacular as we drove over and around the mountains but not so good when the Sat Nav took us through three or four miles of dirt track through olive groves and, just when we had given up on seeing civilization again, we eventually came to a road and Lidl loomed before us.

 

 Greek dogs? Still plenty of them, sleeping in the shade all day and barking all night.

 

We’ve noticed some changes since we were last here two years ago. The price of just about everything has increased dramatically and with low wages and cuts to pensions I don’t know how the folk here are coping. The folk in Greece are just as welcoming, helpful and hospitable as before and yet we sensed an air of resignation and sadness and not much optimism for the future.  Many more small businesses have closed, infrastructure projects have been abandoned or put on indefinite hold. Ordinary Greek folk don’t deserve what’s happening to them. I won’t go into a discourse on whether or not the economic system and socio/political contract in Western and Southern Europe is broken but it’s plain to see that the current system is dealing anything but a fair hand to Greece and its citizens in the birthplace of democracy.

 

Pat

 

 

Friday, 4 May 2018

Mountains and Markets

Friday 4th May 2018.

 

We left the Blue Dolphin campsite on Friday morning and headed off to Mycenae. It’s not the main tourist season yet so we didn’t think we’d have too much trouble accessing the car park, having a look around the site and maybe stopping overnight. After sitting in a traffic queue for 30 minutes to access the car park whilst coaches performed elaborate manoeuvre to deposit their cargo and then find somewhere to park we abandoned the idea, performed a ten point turn and headed south. 

 

Nafplio was only a half hour drive and it’s one of our favourite towns with Venetian architecture, some funky shops and a massive harbour side car park for us (N37.568286 E22.801125). When we arrived though the car park was rammed not only with cars but maybe 50 or 60 coaches. When we strolled into town we could hardly move for teenage school kids and when we arrived at the main square we understood why. A stage had been erected and lots of musical groups, bands and orchestras were performing on the day, encouraged by their teachers and supporters. It was a scorching hot day and some of the young musicians looked like they were wilting in the heat but the applause and cheers from their friends and colleagues kept them lively.

 

The harbour at Nafplio is massive but every available mooring was taken up by luxury yachts and cruisers which was unusual, as was the red carpet lining the promenade. I wandered over and got chatting to a couple of guys cleaning, or should I say preening, one of the yachts. They explained it was a festival where the various owners would display their yachts looking for charter business. Theirs was one of the smaller yachts and they said the daily hire would cost from €3,500 a day although there would be a better rate for a week or more! How much to buy a yacht that size? Ten to fifteen million Euros and the larger ones 50-60 million and upwards. Most of these yachts are owned by seriously wealthy folk who maybe use them for a few weeks of the year and then look to the charter companies to find less seriously wealthy folk to charter them for holidays or corporate functions. Looked like fun but we’ll probably stick with the motorhome.

 

South again the next day pretty much hugging the coastline with the Myrtoan sea on our left and the Parnonas mountains towering above us inland, plenty of places to stop and admire the view as we headed toward Plaka and the Semeli campsite. Plaka is a small harbour village a few miles south of the larger town of Leonidio. We first came to Plaka four years ago when there was, allegedly, a camperstop facility. It was closed and locked up when we arrived and so we parked 50 metres from the harbour and hoped for the best. Within a few minutes a young guy turned up on a bike and explained that we wouldn’t be allowed to park up overnight but no problem because he and his cousin had just opened a campsite round the corner and would we like to come and have a look? Well, we had a look and we were impressed with the time and effort they had put into the site and stopped a few days. This time was our third visit and we were greeted like old friends. We stopped a few days (N37.149432 E22.891848)and planned the next stage of our journey. On previous trips we’d headed south through Lakonia to Geraka Port, Monemvasia, Viglafia and then round into the Mani; Gythio, Kotronas, Porto Kagio and then up the west coast toward Kalamata. This time we didn’t want to just retrace our steps and so decided we would head over the mountains toward Sparti in no particular hurry. We planned the route and set off, climbing toward Platanaki and then Agios Basileios. The roads were fine and the views outstanding but as we left Agios Basileios we lost the tarmac and the road turned into a dirt track. We were heading toward Prastos and we stuck it out for a couple of miles, climbing all the way until we had to give in and accept that we wouldn’t be seeing tarmac for a while. We were both disappointed to have to turn back as there were some waterfalls and a nature reserve that we wanted to visit but our van isn’t really built for off roading and bouncing up a mountain track in second gear for mile after mile. We dropped back to Kosmas and took another scenic route to Sparti, driving around the mountains, albeit at 1500m, rather than over them. We spent the night just outside Sparti at Magoula in the car park of an abandoned restaurant (N37.073066 E22.413992). 

 

The E82 road from Sparti to Kalamata was highly recommended and it didn’t disappoint us, we set off on Thursday morning and again enjoyed some spectacular views, climbing to over 1600m on a good tarmac road. We dropped down to Kalamata and drove around the bay to Petalidi a small harbour town. There are two places where motorhomes are encouraged or at least tolerated outside of the summer months and we chose the one on the edge of town overlooking the sea. We had a wander around and returned to the van to prepare an evening meal. We had just started eating when a dirty old lorry full of live chickens pulled up opposite us. We both had the same thought, was tomorrow market day? A quick google search threw up a Motorhome blog from a few years ago in which the authors had been stuck in the same place where we were parked whilst the market went on around them and they had to leave in the very early hours of the morning, (thanks michaelandpamstravels.com). We had a similar experience a few years ago in Ermioni when we were woken by a market being set up at 5.30am and didn’t want to repeat the experience so whilst Phil steadied the glasses and plates I gingerly drove the 500m around to the parking area behind the harbour (N36.958842 E21.935199). We had pulled in there a few hours earlier to get some water from the beach shower. Most showers have a foot wash tap which makes filling my 10litre a piece of cake but this one just had an overhead shower with the tap at knee level. So I held the containers above my head whilst Phil operated the tap. First container was no problem but by the time we were filling the second one my arms were tired and the inevitable happened, the container slipped and I took an early shower fully clothed much to Phil’s amusement.

 

This morning after buying some tomatoes and cucumber at the market we travelled all of 11 miles to the village of Agios Andreas and another free parking spot next to an abandoned camp site by another small harbour (N38.863074 E21.921912), water available from the beach shower but this time with a tap at a lower level!

 

 

Pat

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

A bit of Greek History and Culture

We left Larissa heading for a campsite at Kato Gatzea on the west side of the Pelion peninsular. We needed a washing machine and a quiet day both of which we found at Camping Hellas (N39.309707 E23.107924) Lunch in the beachside restaurant was, basically, fish. Gavros (small fried fish like whitebait but a bit bigger) followed by grilled Dorado. The Greek salad was the only concession to a vegetable. All delicious though.

 

The following day we drove further south toward the tip of the peninsular stopping a couple of times to see if we wanted to stop the night. Nowhere was too appealing so we thought we’d set off over the Pelion mountains to Cherefto, a tiny village next to a sandy beach on the east of the peninsular  The Pelion` mountains aren’t that high, the road over peaks at about 1000m but the roads are twisting and narrow and unsurfaced in parts so by the time we arrived at Cherefto (N39.454620 E23.120860) we’d had enough driving for the day. Of course the next day we had to drive back over again via a different road to get to Volos, a busy coastal port and the only outlet to the sea from Thessaly, which is Greece’s largest agricultural region. The views of the city as you drop down from the mountains are spectacular. We found a parking space on the edge of town next to a small beach (N39.350741 E22.962230)

 

Further south on Wednesday with a stop at Thermopylae on the way to pay our respects to Leonidas. In 480 BC Leonidas set off from Sparta with a force of 300 Spartan soldiers and 900 Helots who were the dominant population of Sparta but enjoyed low status to say the least and would best be described as conscripted men. By the time Thermopylae was reached Leonidas’ army had swelled to somewhere between 4,000 and 7,000 men. Unfortunately they faced an invading Persian army led by Xerxes numbering 300,000 soldiers. Leonidas and his men repulsed the Persian army and held the pass for 6 days until a Greek traitor, Ephialtes, led the Persians via a mountain track to the rear of the Greeks. Leonidas was killed in the ensuing battle but rather than leave his body to the Persians the remaining Spartans drove back Xerxes men four times and retrieved his body. There’s an immense statue of the man and an interesting visitor centre there now which is well worth a visit. We stopped the night  further east at Livanates (N38.708534 E23.062540), a quiet unremarkable coastal village which looked like it would be busy in the summer.

 

Now, although we’ve been to Greece three times before in the motorhome we’ve never visited Athens, mainly because we couldn’t find anywhere secure to park the van. This time we did a little more research and discovered a secure car park facility in Piraeus, a five minute walk to the Metro which took 20 minutes to take us into the Centre of Athens, perfect. We arrived and were met by Marie and her husband Vangellis who showed us where to park, gave us a twenty minute lecture on Greek history, a map on which she marked the places we should visit and her phone number in case we had any problems. All for €13 a night (N37.947559 E23.645707). We took the metro and visited most of the main tourist sites - the changing of the guard outside the parliament building, the Roman Agora, the Ancient Agora, the National Gardens and the cluster of white painted cottages in the Anafiotika quarter which nestle in the hillside beneath the Acropolis. The Temple of Olympian Zeus (the largest Temple ever built), Hadrian’s Arch and the Monastiraki flea market. We walked for hours and finally took the Metro back to Piraeus. Marie told us the best time to visit the Acropolis was early morning or late evening so the following day we made an early start and arrived at the Acropolis by 9.30am. By the time we left a couple of hours later it was packed. 

 

We have over the last few years visited Delphi, Ancient Dion, Epidavros and a few smaller archeological sites but nothing prepared us for the Acropolis. The sheer scale of the buildings takes your breath away and the 360 degree views over the city are amazing. The main buildings, the Parthenon and the temple of Poseidon are undergoing massive renovation programmes which will take many years to complete. We walked back down to the Acropolis museum which houses many of the statues and artefacts recovered from the site and spent another couple of hours there. It was Phil’s birthday, not many folk visit the Acropolis on their birthday eh?

 

When we had arrived at the car park in Piraeus we were parked next to a French motorhome but had seen no sign of life; it seemed abandoned but late in the evening when we returned from the Acropolis a taxi arrived and a young French couple with two small daughters emerged. We spoke to them and they told us they had been at the hospital for 5 days whilst their youngest daughter, aged about 18 months, had been treated for a serious urinary infection. They had stayed at the hospital all the time and were exhausted. Marie had looked after their van for them, had visited them at the hospital and later that evening took them all home with her and gave them an evening meal. Another example of the generosity of the Greek people. 

 

After two days walking in Athens we thought we deserved a few days of doing not very much so headed off for the Blue Dolphin campsite on the coast about 5 miles west of Corinth, (N37.935527 E22.865461). We’ve stopped here a few times before and although the site is a little tired and could do with a lick of paint at the very least we are always given a warm welcome by Peter and his family. We arrived last Sunday and we’re still here. The plan is to stay another day and then visit ancient Mycenae on Friday and then head further south into the Peloponnese.

 

Last evening as the sun set I saw some fish splashing out in the bay so picked up the rod, scrambled over the rocks and had a few casts. Took me a minute or two to realise that the mosquitos were feasting on my legs so I gave up on the fishing and smeared some anti histamine cream on. My Mum used to say she could see a purpose for all God’s creatures except flies. I’m not so sure about that but I started to Google mosquitos to see what benefit they were, or might be, to humans and what part they play in the food chain. Interesting reading but this is the bit I wanted to see - “In summary, the mosquito species that spread disease are not essential parts of any food web or chain and are humanity's worst foe. Kill them with impunity.”

 

 

Pat

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Greece

We left Ancona on Wednesday afternoon and landed at Igoumenitsa at 8am Thursday morning, should have been 7am but hey ho, maybe there was a headwind. The crossing was smooth but unfortunately we shared the crossing with 6/7 coachloads of Italian teenagers on what appeared to be a school holiday trip which meant they ran up and down the corridors banging on doors all night. I felt a bit sorry for the lads, they showed the Juve-Real Madrid game on the TV in the lounge and the boys were ecstatic when 3-0 up only for Ronaldo to break their hearts in the 97th minute. That was hard for them. 

 

A pleasant drive found us at Ioannina by mid morning and a car park, with a water tap, for €8/24hrs (N39.673072 E20.854670). We stopped at Ioannina a few years ago but didn’t do too much exploring but this time we wandered up to the town centre through a mix of Byzantine and Ottoman architecture, international shops and old hardware stores and plenty of cafes and restaurants. I was on a mission to find a Greek Data SIM card, found just what I wanted in the Cosmote shop but didn’t have my passport with me which is a requirement in Greece. Back to the van and then back to the shop, fill out the forms, pay the money and I’m good to go. Except I wasn’t, when I got back to the van I couldn’t connect to t’interweb! Back to the shop and another hour whilst it was all sorted. Which meant I could watch Arsenal hang on and draw 2-2 with CSKA Moscow; Atlético Madrid awaits us.

 

The following morning we set off for the Old Citadel and the Silversmith Museum, the city is known for its silver craftsmanship and the museum was most interesting. We like Ioannina, the lake, the citadel, and the people.

 

We had visited Meteoro before, last time we were here we explored 4 of the monasteries in one day but this time we arrived in the late afternoon and thought we would just visit the Grand Meteoro this time. The massive pinnacles of smooth rock are breathtaking and the monasteries sat on their peaks are almost unbelievable. Mostly built in the 14th century the monasteries were initially only accessible via removable ladders or windlasses with baskets to carry the monks up and down. In the 1920’s steps were hewn into the rocks but access is still not an easy task, we climbed 27 floors and our calves knew it the next day. But it’s worth it. Apparently Meteoro is the most visited place in mainland Greece and if you’re all monastery’d out there are plenty of beautiful walks around the area. We stopped the night at Arsenis Guesthouse, it’s free if you buy a meal (N39.708436 E21.654706). It’s a bit like Fawlty Towers but without the humour. Basically you get a Greek salad and whatever Arsenis can find to throw on the barbecue providing there are enough folk who want to eat and make it worth his while to fire up the barby. Arsenis assures everyone that his Mum (who must be 80 if she’s a day) is a fantastic cook but basically she fries the chips. The dining room is a sombre affair to say the least until Arsenis’ son/brother/mum sits down and turns the TV on. Last time we were here there were a few other Motorhomers and Arsenis came round in the early evening shouting “Pork, Chicken?” and we indicated what we wanted him to barbecue for us. “ Seven O’clock you eat” he shouted. Four French Motorhomers turned up at half past seven and he refused to serve them because they were late. They explained that they had been for aperitifs but that wasn’t good enough. “You’re late, no food” he shouted as the chicken and pork caramelised on the barby. 

 

So tonight we are parked up in a small car park next to a park and the river Peneios in Larissa just five minutes from the city centre (N39.642683 E22.411524). We were lucky to get in here, we took the last parking space that could accommodate us. It was a bit of a squeeze getting in and I suspect it will be even more of a squeeze reversing out tomorrow morning. Larissa isn’t a tourist town, there are no translations into English, German or Italian on the menus but it’s a great busy, bustling place. We wandered around for a few hours today and there must be, at least, 200 coffee bars here, probably more, and all of them full on Saturday lunchtime with families and young folk all enjoying the spring sunshine and enjoying their coffee. Although nearly all the places were licensed we didn’t see a single person drinking alcohol. Folk have been coming and going all day to the park and late this afternoon a couple of wedding parties arrived to have photos taken by the fountains. 

 

It’s been 30 degrees here today and 35 in the van so tomorrow we’re setting off for Kato Gatzea on the coast about 50 miles south to a campsite where we can do some washing and other domestic chores and enjoy a sea breeze.

 

One of the wedding parties has just returned from having their photos taken. I went over and gave them a shiny pound and wished them wealth and happiness. I remember when Phil and I got married and on the train back down to London from Newcastle a lady came over and gave us the same token. Worked for us.

 

 

Pat

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

The last few days in Italy

Well, the haircut in Cesenatico went ok as did the football match😄 I was happy with both results. In the evening whilst we were there some Romany lasses from a small camp next to where we were parked came over to do their washing. They had a couple of large buckets and used the cold water tap to wash and rinse their clothes and then spread the brightly coloured garments on the grass embankment beneath the river to dry. Early the next morning we were woken by what sounded like a concrete mixer. Got up, had a peek and a couple of guys with a machine were cleaning out the busted chemical toilet dump. Queue the lasses running over to remove their clothes before they got splattered.  Enough of dodgy Sostas we thought; lets find a campsite and chill out for a couple of days, so we headed for Riccione on the coast. I came to Riccione when I was a kid with my folks, I was maybe 8 or 9 and remember having a great time despite the sunburn but hey, we had calomine lotion in those days. I vaguely remember the hotel we stayed at being 100yds from the beach, there was a coffee stall and a small cafe/restaurant and miles of golden sand and warm sea. I didn’t expect to find the hotel or the young waiter who took me on his Vespa to meet his folks in Cattolica or the little park where I could hire a bike and ride round for hours. We walked up and down the road over the next couple of days and were amazed that all the accesses to the beach were private. We were about a mile from the centre of Riccione and all the way along the beach were 65 private beaches attached to hotels/apartmemts or campsites. We’d noticed the same thing at Cesenatico, we walked down a road leading to the beach and then had to walk half a mile until we could gain access because of the corrugated tin barriers preventing us actually getting onto some sand. I don’t have a problem with a beachside cafe or bar sticking a few loungers and umbrellas on the beach and charging you to use them, but denying access for a mile or so seemed unacceptable to me. Anyway, they say you should never go back. The campsite was ok though, nice hot showers. We were on the flight path to Rimini airport but not too many flights this time of year. But boy, those bikers are really pushing it on the road behind us eh? Ah, theres a race circuit at Misano about half a mile away. Practice on Saturday and racing on Sunday. When each race started the noise came in waves but as the riders became strung out after a few laps it was constant. We thought if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em but after walking for ages we couldnt find the entrance to the circuit so we went back to the campsite and I amused myself trying to guess what kind of bend they were taking from the gearchange. It was a first for us, we’ve parked up in places with traffic noise, train lines, airplanes, dogs barking all night, owls hooting and screeching, loud music from bars/clubs but the motor racing circuit was a first. And those bikes brought back memories. I had a cousin who raced a 500cc Manx Norton and when I was about 10 or 11 he used to take me with him and his mechanic in a dirty green Commer van to Snetterton, Oulton Park, Silverstone and Brands Hatch. The sun always seemed to be shining when we set off and it was always dark when we came back. Once, I think it was Silverstone, I hung around the beer tent. There was a deposit on bottles in those days but most folk couldnt be arsed going back for the money so I would collect the bottles from where they’d left them and collect the deposit money. The races then started with the 50cc category and worked up to 500cc with one or two sidecar races in between. The sound of those 50cc bikes, ( I think they were all Itoms or Items?)  will stay with me forever, together with the image of these big guys straddling such a tiny bike. Happy Days. All that was missing yesterday when I heard those bikes was the smell of Castrol R. So tonight we are in Jesi, (N43.518799 E13.241587) sometimes spelt Lesi, just a half hour away from Ancona and the ferry to Greece tomorrow afternoon. Just a small car park but there’s a waste dump and fresh water with no charge. There’s also a lift to take us up to the old part of town with its elegant pedestrianised main street with the expensive shops and the Cathedral, Bishops Palace and large and small Piazzas surrounded on three sides by the tall City walls. We like Jesi.  So tomorrow we set off for Greece for 6/8 weeks. Arrive in Igoumenitsa at 7am Thursday morning and head towards Ioannina seeking WiFi (second leg against CSKA Moscow).    Pat

Thursday, 5 April 2018

A few more days in Italy

 

 

We stayed in Verona for 3 nights, there is so much to enjoy in the city. On Sunday we headed off for Vicenza, another city we visited in 2014 when we drove overland to Greece. Vicenza is best known for it’s buildings designed by Andrea Palladio in the 16th century and when we visited last time we were impressed and spent an enjoyable day wandering around. This time though we were just looking at the same Palladian buildings we had seen before and failed to discover anything else to entertain us. We stopped in a large car park with dedicated motorhome parking and water and waste facilities and from memory it cost us less than €10 for 24 hrs (N45.542844 E11.559511),its a fifteen minute walk into town.

 

On Monday we set off for Ferrara for no other reason than it’s on the way to Ancona and the centre boasts a mix of Renaissance and Medieval architecture. The Este Castle, in the centre of town is particularly impressive. A large manor house with four massive bastions and surrounded by a moat, it was built in 1385 both to protect the town from external threats and to serve as a fortified residence for the Este family. We crossed the moat via a still working drawbridge into a courtyard but the queues to enter the castle snaked round and round (and admission wasn’t free) so we didn’t stop too long. But we walked for miles around the town and into the Cathedral of Saint George which was consecrated in 1135 and renovated many times over the centuries resulting in a mix of Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance styles. The  brick built city walls which were mostly built between 1492 and 1520 have been restored and now circle the town for a distance of 6 miles. We didn’t do the circuit. We nearly didn’t stop in Ferrara at all. Arriving at the motorhome parking area we discovered the most complicated means of access we have ever encountered! We needed internet access to log onto the site and fill in a load of forms (in Italian) to gain a password. Then back into the website to indicate how long we wanted to stay, pay by credit card and eventually obtain a QR code to present at the barrier. We did this parked up in a tiny access car park and when we finally were ready to access the site we couldn’t get to the barrier because of the vans parked up with the occupants scratching their heads and trying to work out how they could get in. Eventually after I asked them a few times they backed up and we were in. In addition to the €10 fee for overnight parking all other services had to paid for, waste disposal, fresh water and electricity. Water was 50c but once you had put the coin in the machine the water poured out with no tap, so if you were filling up using containers rather than a hose by the time you had collected 20 litres and poured it in the van the other 80 litres was on the floor. I got a bit of a system going with a German guy but even then we wasted more water than we obtained. Here are the coordinates if you fancy a challenge (N44.835590 E11.611110).

 

Tuesday we drove the 50 miles to Castel San Pietro Terme, a lovely little town which we’ve visited before and in which everybody is so friendly. The motorhome parking overlooks some well tended allotments, it’s free and there is fresh water and a waste dump (N44.39795 E11.59341). The butcher supplied us with some delicious meatballs and seasoned pork escalopes. The Co-Op supermarket provided everything else we needed and we decided to stop a couple of days. On the Monday night I realised that the 12gb data SIM card was exhausted! How could we have used that much data in four days? The lass in the Vodafone shop in Verona had told me that when it was nearly empty I would receive a notification with links to top it up but that hadn’t happened. On the Tuesday lunchtime I walked up into town, found some free WiFi and bought another €20 credit from the Vodafone website. I wondered how many Gb the €20 had purchased so wandered around for an hour or so until I found a Vodafone shop which was closed for lunch. We went back in the afternoon and whilst I was asking the question of a lady with limited English and using Google translate a young lad came in who had been studying in London and spoke perfect English. To cut a very long story short I had been mis-sold the incorrect card in Verona which I could not top up, despite Vodafone happily taking my €20 a few hours earlier. Between us we decided the best thing to do was start again but as I was using so much data I’d be better off with a 35Gb deal and anything left on it could be used, hopefully, when we return to Italy in June. “But what about the €20” I kept wailing. After several phone calls it was agreed that it would be credited against my new purchase.

 

But the mystery remained as to how I had used so much data and after a bit of research on our phones and pads we reckon it was the background app refresh function. Put it this way, when we turned it off we weren’t using anywhere near the same amount of data. Lesson learnt.

 

So after a couple of pleasant days in Caste San Pietro Terme we set off this morning for Cesenatico on the Adriatic coast about 25 miles north of Rimini. We are parked up in a motorhome car park with water and waste dump and it’s free (N44.198782 E12.391332). We’ve had a wander around and whilst it’s pretty enough we didn’t think there would be enough to keep us occupied for more than a day but I saw a barbers, popped in for a trim but he can’t fit me in till 1pm tomorrow. So we’ll have to explore some more tomorrow. I’ve had haircuts in France, Spain and Greece but never before in Italy. Wish me luck.

 

A few thoughts on Italian sostas. Whilst we always endeavour to find free places to stop overnight or for a day or so we don’t mind paying if that’s the only option and if the facilities are ok. But it doesn’t seem to matter whether you pay €20 or nowt the facilities always seem to leave a lot to be desired. I won’t go into the details of toilet cassette emptying, you may be eating your tea whilst reading this, but anyone who has a motorhome knows what is needed and we rarely find anywhere that’s maintained or serviced. The other thing we’ve noticed is the number of motorhomes parked which look like they haven’t moved for weeks or months or even years. Some of them held together with gaffer tape and expanding foam. Sometimes we see folk going in and out of them and some look completely abandoned. It’s strange because we don’t see this anywhere else in Europe. 

Finally you may wonder why I was obsessed with getting some WiFi urgently. Well, Arsenal play CSKA Moscow tonight and that’s a must see match. If we win tonight and I get a decent haircut tomorrow I’ll be happy.

 

 

Pat

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Photos, hopefully

Ok, im trying to post the pics that should have appeared on the last post, fingers crossed.
Horses taking a drink after the Romeria in Bolnuevo        
The beach at Bolnuevo        
The beach at Bolnuevo 2      
Flamenco      
The alps in the distance    
Nearly there  
At the top looking back at France  
Col de Larche
Snowed in?
A smile at 2000 metres