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.