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5 Year European Tour

June 2016 - February 2020
Currently traveling
  • Day1254

    Neraida - Sevia Bridge, Alaikmonas

    December 2, 2019 in Greece ⋅ ☁️ 7 °C

    The sun is casting pink and peachy hues onto a soft, thin covering of high altitude cloud, as it sets behind the Neraida - Sevia Bridge. We once again have a view of the Alaikmonas Reservoir, although today's spot is significantly further south (it's a big reservoir).

    We arrived here via a series of rural mountain roads. They were in poor condition at times, with rockfalls, subsidence, mudslides and crumbling (or no) surface, all common features. Our views of the amazing, tree covered landscape were uplifting, but some of the sights we saw along the way were difficult to cope with. We stopped and fed two very skinny looking hunting dogs and not long afterwards passed a cow at the side of the road. Her behaviour wasn't normal; she stood stock still, her head down, only moving her eye to watch us. As we drew closer and passed we saw she was emaciated with a bad injury to her back end. We couldn't think of anything we could do to help. She was obviously terrified but there wasn't a settlement anywhere nearby where we could alert someone. We just hope one of the few other drivers we passed will have seen her and known what to do.

    To reach our overnight spot we turned off the main road onto a dirt track. This led us to a scrubby bit of gass adjacent to the pebble shore. Although the air and water temperatures were only 12° and 9°C respectively, Will went for what he called a 'refreshing' dip in the reservoir, before settling down on the beach with his fishing gear. He managed to catch a roach, but returned it, as it wasn't quite big enough for a meal. A few small boats with either a 'put put' outboard or oars bore crew who cast their lines as the light faded. We spotted a Coypu swimming a little way out, being harassed by a seagull.

    Vicky made friends with a couple of dogs who had come to investigate the van. They were both very nervous but the blue merle sheepdog was extremely hungry. She'd obviously had puppies recently as her teats hung low with milk, but there was no sign of them. Though skittish, she gently ate out of Vicky's hand and stayed for most of the evening, returning in the morning. As we were close to the town of Neraida, Vicky called her Aida and was reluctant to leave her behind.

    It was a quiet and beautiful spot where we'd planned to stay two nights, but these plans fell flat when we attempted to turn the heating on. Our Truma gave out a series of bangs, but no heat. Temperatures dropped to 3°C outside and 8° in. As if this wasn't enough, part of Will's tooth broke off, leaving behind a raw edge like a shard of glass. His cap on the same tooth had fallen out a few weeks ago but hadn't caused any pain so he buried his head and hoped it might be ok. It was time to return to Thessaloniki!
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  • Day1254

    Alaikmonas reservoir

    December 2, 2019 in Greece ⋅ ⛅ 7 °C

    With our gas filters in place and our heater now functioning, we are keeping our fingers crossed that it stays that way. We've left Thessaloniki after a morning of sight seeing and sampling local food. Having travelled along the side of a beautiful V shaped valley and lake for some time, passing bee hives and a goat herd with their flock, the sat nav confidently instructed us to turn left. Looking at the poorly surfaced, narrow and very steep track winding up the mountainside, we decided against it and continued on, only to arrive at a dead end. We stared in dismay at the tens of kilometres the alternative route added to our total driving distance and decided to tackle the original one. We were very glad of Martha's new front tyres and that her engine was in good order as she and Will tackled the track like old pros, rewarding us with some brilliant views over the verdant valley.

    Now parked for the night on a rough area of ground, we are overlooking another water body; the Alaikmonas Reservoir. Large Plane trees tower over Martha while their denuded branches frame the view of the concrete dam and road bridge.

    The spot was surprisingly busy, with locals, mostly groups of friends in their early 20s, arriving in a car and hanging out for a while playing music with a loud low bass through retrofitted subwoofers. Vicky fed the three dogs who were chilling out in the evening sunshine while Will went for a fish. A dog owner asked if Will had seen any strays go past; he wanted to give his white Boxer a good run off lead. They got chatting and the guy asked why Will was visiting Greece. As part of his response Will spread his arms at the rural scene around them. The guy nodded ponderously, saying without resentment that many Greeks didn't get to enjoy the beautiful countryside because the poor state of the economy required them to work every hour.

    Our parking spot had a stone drinking fountain but turning the tap didn't yield any water. After setting off the following morning we found a second fountain just a few hundred metres down the road. Water flowed from its tap so we stopped and filled Martha's tank. Interestingly, we found a stop cock behind the structure; we wonder if the dry fountain had one that we could have turned on? Live and learn eh?
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  • Day1251

    Thessaloniki

    November 29, 2019 in Greece ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    It's a wonderfully warm and bright day that sees us parked near Thessaloniki city centre. The streets are lined (double lined at points) with cars, but a large area of potholed hardpack land on the east side of the bay, covered with scrubby grass and litter, provides plenty of free parking for us and a handful of other vans. There are views over the sea to mountain peaks, although these are often obscured by a fug of air pollution.

    Arriving early after a short drive from Zampetas Camper shop and stop, we set off into the city with food on our mind. To find eateries we occasionally resort to Trip Advisor or Happy Cow, the vegan equivalent, but we've found some of our best experiences of eating out have come from wandering the streets and taking in what is around us. Often somewhere stands out, as the little Falafeleria did today. Vicky ordered an Original wrap and Will spiced things up with the Red Hot Chilli version. The server scooped the falafel mixture into the mould and dropped them into the pan of boiling oil before setting to work assembling the spreads and fresh salad on the flat bread. The amount of care they took made it seem like an art form and it certainly paid off with the taste as we took our first bites sitting on tall stools at the wooden bar ledge outside.

    Our hunger sated we set off on our second mission of the day; to find a doctor for Vicky. She'd had a couple of very painful episodes accompanied by bleeding so wanted to get things checked out. We started at a small clinic we passed, nestled among the high rises. The plain clothes person who came out of their office to see what us lost looking foreigners wanted said there wasn't a doctor to see here, but then made half a dozen calls which resulted in a phone number for us to ring. We thanked them and sat in the shade of the large courtyard Plane tree while we dialled. The person at the other end said they couldn't help, but advised us to go to one of the city's hospitals. Looking it up on our map we found it to be just 3.5km away, so set off on foot. It was a hot day, Thessaloniki's roads were busy and noisy with cars and mopeds, their exhaust fumes infusing the air. Litter lay strewn in parts as the neighbourhood moggies excavated large bins, searching for morsels of discarded meals.

    We were seen quickly by the receptionist, nurse, then doctor at the hospital. Apologetically the doctor explained that Vicky would need to go to the gynaecology department at another hospital, entering the name on her phone to make sure we found it ok. Papageorgiou was too far to walk to but luckily we arrived at a time when the free car park was emptying and were able to slot Martha sideways into 3 vacant bays. Will's Greek came in handy as he was able to read the signs for gynaecology. From here we were directed to an overflowing A&E, where we were triaged quickly. Vicky's EHIC card was scanned, her address and contact number taken and she was sent back to gynae. The staff were all so helpful and within half an hour an examination revealed a polyp and an ovarian cyst as the cause of the pain and bleeding. She'll need to get them checked out when we get back to the UK but can put her mind at rest until then. After a hectic sunset drive through crazy rush hour traffic we arrived back at our harbourside car park and breathed a sigh of relief.

    The following morning Vicky set off in search of craft supplies while Will fished. Not only did she find what she was looking for, but came accross Green House Bio; a little organic grocery store and stocked up on supplies, buying some buffalo meat as a treat for Will. Thessaloniki is a great place for getting things done!

    Yesterday's falafels were so good that we ate there again before taking a wander along the wide seafront boulevard. The area was regenerated a number of years ago, creating a dedicated cycle lane and shaded seating under a corridor of bushy topped pines. The vibrant atmosphere bore testament to how much the open recreational space was appreciated, with young and old mingling, relaxing on benches, casting a line into the bay, zipping about on hired electric scooters, bikes or simply taking a stroll with their friends or family. In contrast the grid of high density development covering the gentle slope away from the water felt busy and purposeful. In the early evening Vicky trekked to an Easy Wash laundrette a few kilometres away while Will prepared his buffalo meat and a vegan cauliflower cheese for tea.

    Thessaloniki is not compact so on Sunday morning we decided to save our feet and take the tandem to do a few touristy activities. After admiring the crescent moon and 'umbrellas on poles' art installations we were welcomed in to the broad cylindrical White Tower; so called because one of its previous inmates bargained their freedom in exchange for painting the whole thing white! Getting out our wallets, we were told with a smile that today was a free entry day! The structure had previously been used as a prison and allowed visitors to access some of the cramped, stone cells. As ever we enjoyed the top down view from the head of the tower. Thessaloniki is a real melting pot with grand old buildings, dome roofed places of worship, crumbling walls, glass fronted retail outlets and dense, whitewashed apartment blocks.

    From the tower we trekked the short distance to Aristotle Square, a long wide pedestrian corridor leading away from the sea, lined by eateries and hotels, landscaped with grass, trees, benches and a statue of the great philosopher and polymath after whom the square was named. Children sat on the ground, selling little cups of breadcrumbs for tourists to feed to the hoards of podgy pigeons. A woman tried to force a crucifix necklace into Vicky's hand as a 'gift' for which she would inevitably expect a 'gift' in return.

    We had come in search of the Modiano indoor market; a historic trading centre running for nearly 90 years and selling all sorts of local food and produce. Unfortunately the stalls lay empty and paths between them were shrouded in darkness; no trade took place here on Sundays. Never mind.

    On the way we'd spotted a number of men with homemade trolleys selling a hot drink out of a tall and ornate metal teapot. Wondering whether this might be salepi, the powdered beverage sold to us at the Arnissa market, we bought a cup to see what it was like. The creamy, sugary mixture topped with cinamon and nutmeg was definitely salepi and as comforting and tasty as a hot chocolate. To compliment it we bought and shared a koulouri; a ring of sesame bread, again peddled by someone with a homemade cart. Perfect street food!

    The wind picked up as we cycled back to Martha, causing us to dodge spray as waves crashed against the concrete sea wall, bouncing back and forming peaks as they met incoming crests. We're not big city people so it came as a surprise how much we'd enjoyed being in Thessaloniki. Much of it is run down, poverty is apparent, air quality is poor but there is a palpable vibrancy and warmth that draws you in and tempts you to stay.
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  • Day1249

    Zampetas camper shop stop, Thessaloniki

    November 27, 2019 in Greece ⋅ ☀️ 15 °C

    We are at Zampetas Camper shop, stop and service garage. It is run by Alexandros and Antonis, two brothers who took the business on from their father. For the first time since arriving in Greece 9 days ago we are parked with access to drinking water, toilet emptying and electricity. There is even wifi if we want it. We breathed a sigh of relief as we plugged our fan heater in.

    Vicky set off behind the wheel this morning, planning to hand over to Will after lunch. She put a spanner in the works by braking just at the point Will was returning to the passenger seat after securing trays that were threatening to jump from their high shelf. The slight change in velocity caused Will to lose balance and bang the top of his head on the edge of the over-cab bed. It soon became clear that he had concussion. He'd had it once before and ironically, this too was in Greece, over 30 years ago on a school trip!

    After driving past dozens of empty caravans and motorhomes in storage, we backed Martha up to the tall railings surrounding Zampetas' large yard, in between two British vans. The railings are draped with a fine green mesh, similar to that layed beneath olive trees to catch the fruit. It blocks off the view of the adjacent petrol station and car wash, but not the noise of the pressure hose and pump. Two friendly dogs, who Vicky decided to call Sol and Pumpkin, live in kennels near where we parked. They are let out to patrol the site overnight and on Sundays when the shop is closed. There is also another kennel within the fenced off area of a small chapel. It's occasionally used for the employee's dogs.

    The good news is that it's all free! The somewhat frustrating news is that our dodgy heater (the whole reason we tavelled 300km to get here) works perfectly when Alexandros comes out to take a look. He recommends filters for our gas bottles, explaining that the LPG we use has the advantage of being available almost everywhere in europe, but the disadvantage that it is designed to fuel cars, not heaters. Oil mixed with LPG lubricates the moving parts of an engine, but can accumulate and cause difficulties in Truma systems such as our own.

    We weren't the only ones with Truma trouble; the guy in the Hymer van to our left had been waiting a couple of weeks for a replacement unit after water ingress damaged his beyond repair. Nerinda and Nick to our right had trouble with their leisure batteries but this was able to be sorted out pretty quickly. Will was especially glad of others to have a good natter with. Vicky enjoyed the company but was particularly happy that the couple came with two gorgeous Springer Spaniels; Max and Elsa, who she enjoyed taking for walk with Nerinda. While the foursome's home on wheels was in the workshop they joined us for drinks and nibbles. They are on a year long tour of Europe... we wonder if they will keep to this plan or decide to extend their time as we have?

    After a couple of days we left, keeping our fingers crossed that our new gas filters would be the solution to our heating problem.
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  • Day1248

    Arnissa free camping, Lake Vegoritida

    November 26, 2019 in Greece ⋅ ⛅ 9 °C

    We're on our way to Thessaloniki to hopefully get our heater fixed, but to break up the journey we've stopped just outside Arnissa for the night. A 'Free Camping' sign directed us down a dirt track to the shore of Lake Vegoritida and a T shaped floating jetty. It had been raining heavily for most of the day and showed no sign of letting up, so we were a little concerned to see a wooden hut about 20m out in the water. Thankfully, on closer inspection, we could see the barrels on which it rested; it was obviously designed to sit on top of the water and hadn't been swept out in a flood as we'd initially feared.

    Resolving to stay indoors until the rain abated, we brewed some hot drinks and took in our surroundings. There were no specific motorhome facilities but the town had provided bins, sheltered seating and a WC which poor Will later discovered was in a dreadful state when he went to empty our cassette.

    Reeds grew up either side of our clearing, a sailing dinghy and blue wooden rowing boat were moored nearby and farther out was the outline of a small wooded island. The far side couldn't be seen through the rain. Sipping our tea and coffee we were surprised to spot Pygmy Cormorants swimming alongside the Great Crested Grebes and perching on the sun bleached branches of a long dead sapling. We'd known there were colonies at the Prespa Lakes, but it was a real pleasure to come accross them unexpectedly like this.

    These birds weren't the only treat Arnissa had in store for us; that afternoon we watched Little Grebes, a Water Rail, a couple of Kingfishers, an otter and to top it all off we discovered that a flock of Pelicans called this place home! Wow!

    With our pressure cooker boiling away to keep the temperature from dropping, we lamented the fact we needed to move on the following day to get our heater fixed. As luck would have it, our Truma miraculously began to blow out warm air that evening. We still wanted to get it checked, but made the decision to stay another night in this wildlife haven.

    The following day was mercifully dry so we headed into town, passing more than 20 stray dogs along the way, either running solo or in small packs. Vicky fed a particularly friendly one who then followed us for the next ten minutes, nudging our hands and even once jumping up to try and persuade us to dole out another biscuit. Seeing people walking towards us with laden bags, we had an inkling there might be a market on. Sure enough, white canvass gazebos lined the near end of the mainstreet. At one stall, frozen fish lay in iced polystyrene trays and carp swam in an aquarium. Tables spilled over with fruit and veg, there was a cheese seller, a herb stall, several displays of sweet treats, then at the far end vendors focussed on household supplies and clothing. We did a recce then re-ran the gauntlet, buying lemons, long stemmed leeks, chillis, peppers, carrots and a humongous cauliflower (the smallest of those on offer). Next we came to the herb stall, where we finally managed to find cardamon pods for Vicky's chai, some loose black tea for Will and gave way to our curiosity when we were shown a powder called salepi, which you could mix with boiling water to make a kind of cream, adding cinamon to taste.

    Vicky had been eyeing up the Greek sweets and so bought a pick 'n' mix of syrupy pastries, some turkish delight and a couple of foil wrapped treats. We've no idea what they are but they've been in a number of shops so we were keen to try them. Lastly, Will was drawn to the cheese seller, where the trader cut him two large segments of semi hard white cheeses, advising him, when asked, which was best for frying. Will passed over the €14 and out of the blue we were given some Greek yoghurt in a large earthenware ramekin 'as a gift'!

    People were friendly but not overbearing, interested in where we came from and sometimes apologising for their lack of English. Will has learned a very basic level of Greek (it's a difficult language to pick up!) and has found his German coming in handy too.

    Following our splurge at the market we attempted to scope out somewhere for lunch. A noticeable proportion of properties were run down or had crumbled, but there were Christmas lights hanging above our heads and a few windows were painted with festive scenes. Most of the cafés and bars looked as if they only sold drinks. We enquired after food in one, but with no luck. Back towards the van on the edge of town was a Ταβέρνα (Taverna) where Will recognised the Greek for word for food. Greeting one old guy smoking on the shaded terrace, we entered an even smokier, dark, high ceilinged room. The two or three regulars turned their attention away from the football for a second to size us up and give a welcome nod.

    We found it easiest to speak German with the friendly woman in her 60s who ran the place. She confirmed she could make us lunch and we seated ourselves outside, away from most of the smoke and close to the trio of well fed ginger cats waiting for scraps. There was no menu but Will took up the offer of chicken soup. Our host seemed disappointed when Vicky didn't class this dish as vegetarian, but made up a delicious Greek Salad topped with a huge slab of feta. Yum!

    We spent the rest of the day birdwatching, fishing (Will) and feeding the small pack of dogs that had gathered around the van (Vicky). We were amazed at how close the Pelicans came and at the Kingfisher that perched on the edge of the pontoon before making a lightening fast dive and plucking a shining silver fish from the water.
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  • Day1245

    Saddle rest area north of Nea Kotili

    November 23, 2019 in Greece ⋅ ☀️ 14 °C

    Greece has gifted us yet another beautiful overnight spot. We are in the mountains on a saddle point between two peaks, north of the small settlement of Nea Kotili. This rest stop of gravel and scrubby grass provides a covered picnic area and long drinking trough kept full by a constant flow of water from a blue pipe. A little way up the road is a miniature white stone chapel, with stained glass windows and thin tapered candles burning inside.

    Since arriving in Greece we've passed a number of these places of worship as well as hundreds of roadside shrines. The latter are placed to remember a loved one or to give thanks for a near escape from death. Many are in a poor state of repair; their little glass windows smashed, their metal frame rusting or their plaster work flaking. However, a surprising number have little flames flickering inside, along with picture frames displaying religious icons, effigies and sometimes flowers or keepsakes.

    Soon after beginning today's drive we came accross a dog lying in the road. It wasn't injured, it was soaking in the warmth of the sun on the tarmac! We became adept at dodging these unconventional chicanes which turned out to be commonplace in these parts!

    Spying a corner shop we took a short detour to Kalpaki to find bread. Stepping out of Martha there was a strong smell that turned out to be our brakes! The warning light had first come on while descending a steep Swiss road; we really must get them checked!

    There turned out to be a good range of little shops in this town. We ended up ticking a number of items off our list, including a humane mouse trap from a garden and pet store. Vicky asked the baker to recommend a sweet treat from the dozens of biscuits and pastries on display, coming away with a couple of yummy chocolate dipped seed and nut bars.

    Continuing on our journey, we saw many more beautiful potential overnight spots and more shrines than we did cars, despite it being a Saturday. The scenery continues to stun us as we drive these quiet crumbling roads. From Kalpaki we climbed, following a gorgeous, steep sided valley within whose grey stone flood plain a winding turquoise channel of water flowed. The tree and shrub cover gradually disappeared from the slopes and we found oursleves among amazing shale mountains in a desolate, almost other worldly landscape. Putting aside the fallen rocks, mudslides and a few subsidence cracks, the road surface was actually in reasonable condition!

    Over the past few days we'd seen the occasional man in a high vis vest carrying a shotgun, sometimes with a dog by his side. Today we saw one strapping a dead wild boar to his flatbed.

    The place we had planned to stay was in a run down village, but pulling up, we felt rather boxed in by the buildings and so travelled on in hope of settling in one of the frequent roadside parking places. The saddle rest area at 1275m above sea level was a perfect spot with woodland mountain views. Vicky climbed the short distance over an open field to one of the peaks and was rewarded with an amazing 360° vista. The quiet surroundings were punctuated with the gentle clang of bells for some time before the flock's 'front guard' appeared at the bend in the road. A small pack of underweight sheepdogs inspected the van and Vicky managed to feed them a little before the shepherd rounded the corner with dozens of sheep, who massed around the water trough and Martha. As the shepherd passed by on foot leaning on his wooden staff we called out a friendly 'ghea sas' which was returned.

    As the sun set, the temperature dropped and we turned the heating on... or tried to. It had recently become quite noisy on ignition and tonight, each time we tried it, it returned either a series of loud blow outs or a resigned click.

    Fishing out the manual we attempted to find the fault. In the cold and dark we hauled boxes out of the boot to access the combi boiler. We tested the fuse, removed and cleaned the filters, dusted the fan, unplugged and replugged various wires, even let the hot water tank drain. Nada.

    Resigning ourselves to a chilly night, we improvised, filling the pressure cooker with water at the trough and placing it on the hob as a makeshift radiator.

    Will found what looked to be a good motorhome shop and repair centre with free camperstop and facilities less than 300km away in Thessaloniki. We hadn't planned on going that far east at this point, but needs must.

    An extra blanket and hot water bottle kept us warm enough overnight. A thick layer of cloud meant the outside temperature didn't fall below 5°C. Inside it was 9° so we got underway sharpish!
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  • Day1244

    Pindos National Park, near Vikos Gorge

    November 22, 2019 in Greece ⋅ ☀️ 10 °C

    Our mood matches Martha's position, looking down on the Pindos mountains from what feels like the top of the world! We haven't travelled far to this patch of gravel at the side of the road but what a lot of sights we've seen.

    Firstly though, we went in search of drinking water and a place to empty the toilet. Park4Night directed us to a standpipe at the corner of a woodland clearing, from which we filled our tank. The waste was more tricky. Greece has very few motorhome emptying points and most of them are around the popular coastal areas, not up in the mountains. For the first time since moving into Martha 3.5 years ago, Will dug a hole to bury our waste. The remote countryside location, deep into the woods and away from any paths was the most suitable place and thanks to our SOG ventilation system there were no nasty chemicals in the mix.

    Our main objective of the day was to visit the gargantuan Vikos Gorge, but first we came accross yet another gorgeous stone bridge that merited a stop. The Plakida-Kalogeriko Bridge is a three arched structure built in 1865. Once a couple of other tourists departed we had it all to ourselves.

    The second unscheduled stop of the day was prompted by a roadside sign for 'Petrodasos', a 'Stone Forest'. Our interest was piqued so we pulled over. It has been incredibly easy to find places to park in Greece so far; something which only adds to our emerging fondness for the country. The 'trees' of this forest turned out to be stacked layers of rock forming natural columns through which we wound a path. They were relatively easy to climb and their position overlooking forested hills far below was incredible.

    Just a short drive away, the road widened and came to an end. Continuing on foot, the woodland trail brought us to the Oxia (Beech) viewpoint on the western edge of Vikos Gorge. Wow. Peering over the sheer drop to the course of the Voidomatis River over 900m below, our already over stimulated brains scrambled to grasp some sort of perspective. The yellow, orange, brown and green plumage of mature trees covering the valley floor, looked like a carpet of pom poms! This incredible natural landscape feature has a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the deepest in relation to its width. Over its 20km length, the span ranges from 400m, narrowing to just a few.

    Beyond a 'continue at own risk' sign we followed a rocky ledge for a few minutes until it abruptly fell away. One of the most beautiful things about this environment was how wild and untouched it was. In a world where so much is affected by human activity, this extreme terrain has managed to maintain its almost virgin state, providing a home to rare species of flora and fauna including medicinal herbs and the elusive chamois.

    Retracing our steps we pulled in for the night by the side of the quiet road, at a spot we'd picked out on the way up. A loose rockface rose up on our right, but in all other directions the position afforded us amazing views over the tops of the Pindos mountains. Ice and water had sculpted the ridges and valleys of these tree clad masses, in a way that resembled folds in a plump puppy's flesh.

    A setting sun cast golden hues into the sky and the temperature dropped. We relished the restful silence that fell on the land, broken only by an occasional bark or howl. Dawn revealed mists moving to and fro in the dips and crevices below, before dispersing into the atmosphere as the day broke and it was time for us to move on.

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  • Day1243

    Captain Bear's Bridge, Dilofo, Pindos

    November 21, 2019 in Greece ⋅ ⛅ 11 °C

    First of all, apologies for being so far behind with these posts, a lot has happened over the past few weeks but we'll try and get a bit more up to date soon!

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    Wow. Our first daylight drive has already dispelled our misconception that Greece was all about beaches and clear coastal waters! We are 120km inland of our seaside resort stopover, beside a fairytale stone bridge surrounded by shale mountains. Muted green Junipers and small Oak trees, crispy brown leaves and pale lichen clinging to their branches, burrow their roots into the loose stone.

    After visiting Lidl and picking up a huge bag of oranges from a roadside seller in Ioannina we left the low lying land and headed off the beaten track. We travelled up and down beautiful tree clad slopes, sculpted by small rivers gathering strength from their sources at rounded summits. It was rare to see another moving vehicle. Instead we steered around cows and the rocks and boulders that lay in our path. The roads reminded us of a dead end track in Croatia leading up to the Bosnian border as well as of rural Italian infrastructure. They were uneven, with large subsidence cracks. Several times in 2017 we'd been faced with barriers closing a route off. Today however, there were no barriers. Instead the road forked. To the left, a very overgrown tarmac stretch, with shrubs inhabiting the splits. To the right, a steep hardpack sandstone track with small gullies carved out by rainwater. We tentatively stuck to the tarmac, only to find a dead end. Backing up a few hundred metres, we decided to go for it. Keeping steady revs as Martha's tyres slipped, we made it up, over the summit and down the other side, where we once again found tarmac. From here we could see the reason for this makeshift bypass; the entire original road had collapsed and lay broken on the downhill slope.

    Soon afterwards we arrived at a run down village where an old woman clad in black, whose back was bowed and face wrinkled with sunshine and time, stopped and turned to stare at us as we passed and parted ways.

    Nearing our destination, signs welcomed us to Pindos National Park and Vikos-Aoos UNESCO Global Geopark. These national and international recognitions protect an amazing landscape formed by glacial, interglacial and water erosion, together with tectonic uplift. Amongst the limestone mountains and deep gorges are small traditional settlements of stone and slate dating from as far back as the 14th century. A network of stone bridges still exist to link these communities and it was by one of these that we settled for a couple of nights.

    Captain Arkoudas' Bridge was built in 1806 and spans the Xiropotamos river; a small tributary of the River Vikos. The single arched stone structure of 8.85m accross by 3.5m high has a fairytale quality, especially when seen through morning mist. Providing a link between Dilofo and the villages of the Central Zagoria and Elati, it was named after Captain Arkoudas (Greek for bear) from Samarina who was killed here by the Turks.

    The following morning we freewheeled the tandem a short distance along the gorge to The Stone Bridge of Kokkoris. This far larger single arch was built in 1750 at a point where the River Vikos narrows to squeeze between two cliff faces. The far side had a couple of small caves, one of which Vicky was able to climb in to, after scrambling down the remnants of steps at the side of the bridge.

    In the afternoon we took a little trip in Martha to visit nearby Dilofo, a traditional stone and slate village classed as a preservable settlement, meaning that only restorations and reconstructions of the original buildings are allowed. Dilofo means 'two hills' and was named after its position, giving it a plentiful supply of fresh water from wells.

    A steep winding route led to a widened area of road, where a dozen cars were parked, as none were allowed into the village. Walking along natural stone slabs set into the earth at an angle we were soon struck by the silence. Continuing on we passed a couple of cows wandering the alleys and a dalmation who barked at us from within its garden, the gate to which was open wide. The beautiful traditional houses were made of irregular stone bricks and slate roofs; materials which had obviously come from the surrounding hills. One of the few people we met was an old woman with a small, blue, patterned headscarf, bending over, scrubbing a metal ring, such as you might use for baking. She was so absorbed in her work she didn't notice us coming, but when we glanced back with a smile and said 'geia sas' (hello), it was warmly returned. Entering a small square, the star of which was an ancient Plane tree whose hollow trunk you could easily fit a few people inside, we met a couple of people transferring firewood from a flatbed truck to their store. One turned out to be the owner of a small taverna. He opened up the wooden door and we stepped inside a square room, whose pale stone walls were lined with cushioned benches and around whose tables, wicker chairs were arranged. English music started playing through the stereo, but when Will asked for a local coffee instead of the Americana offered, the music was switched to Greek. Vicky had Mountain Tea and two huge wedges of Karidopita (Greek Walnut Cake) were brought out. On the bar, a cut glass decanter containing a ruby liquid caught Will's eye. On enquiry, our host said it was his own and poured two generous glasses. We reckon it was Vissino, a full bodied sour cherry liqueur with a few spices. It was delicious, although the sweetness made it more to Vicky's taste than Will's. As we sat in the warmly lit space, we watched a cow nonchalantly sauntering down the street, taking the occasional nibble at climbers creeping over the stone walls.

    Dilofo is an enchanting place and as we trundled back down the hill to Captain Bear's Bridge we felt very privileged to have experienced it.
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  • Day1241

    Plataria, Greece! Country #21!

    November 19, 2019 in Greece ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    We have arrived! The small seaside resort of Plataria is our first stop on a seven week tour of Greece, the 21st country to explore on our long term European trip.

    We pulled up on to this grass and gravel parking strip in the dark last night after an 8.5 hour ferry from Brindisi. We lost an hour to the time difference between Italy and Greece, meaning we are now two hours ahead of the UK. Despite it being nearly midnight local time we made a short recce down to the calm waterfront. The boulevard ran alongside a thin, pebble beach and was lit by warm white lollipop lights. Unseen dogs barked as we wandered past the closed up and slightly run down seafood restaurants, cafés, bakeries, a grocer and butcher. Back at the van we took a moment to look up. Hills rose as dark silhouettes either side of the valley and framed an inky black sky sparkling with stars.

    With all these sights it was difficult to calm down enough to get a good night's sleep, so we treated ourselves to a lie in the following morning. With the light came the rain, lots of it. From within the dry sanctuary of the van we peered out at the flat topped or shallow rooved houses around us, many with solar water heaters. A woman followed by 3 cats collected a bag full of oranges from the small trees lining her long back garden alongside a half height chainlink fence.

    As the rain eased we ventured out into the quiet backstreets. The once smoothly rendered walls of homes now looked rather shabby. Most had an open garage or porch area underneath to provide much needed shade in summer. Garden plants climbed over fences into the street and a handful skinny stray dogs and cats roamed free.

    We made a beeline for a small but well stocked hardware shop shown on Maps.Me because rustling noises we'd heard that morning suggested Monty Mouse may not have left us after all. Using Google Translate we managed to tell them we didn't want to kill our little visitor so we needed a human trap. Ok, so the software doesn't always get it right, but the misinterpretation provided a laugh for both sides. Unfortunately the only humane trap they had was too large, but they did sell a water hose adaptor that will come in handy. They directed us to a nearby garden shop but all they could offer was poison bait. Never mind, we'll keep looking.

    There were a few local supermarkets, the largest of which was about the size of a Spar in the UK. We had a good nose round all the different products and thanks to many hours on Duolingo Will was able to read the Greek text. Vicky had no clue and Google Translate struggled. There were no fresh loaves, the fruit and veg was a bit old and prices quite high, but we picked up some items including Greek Mountain Tea flowers, a clear spirit distilled in nearby Igoumenitsa as well as some cat food and dog biscuits which Vicky stashed in her bag and used to feed those roaming loose around the resort. Two of the dogs looked in particularly bad shape, far too skinny with crusty sores on their ears.

    We found most of the waterfront businesses to be closed, including the bakery, so no bread or pastries. None of the people we could see on café and bar terraces were eating but we were directed towards an establishment by a friendly local sweeping her patio, who we were able to communicate with via German. Again using Google Translate, Vicky unfortunately scared the bar tender by asking if they had any vegetarian food. We'd been looking for a place to eat for some time and when they suggested toast, we nodded. It turned out to be cheese and ham toasties which we paired with a couple of bottles of beer after Vicky had subtly transferred her meat to Will's toastie. Locals sat inside and out sipping coffees or beer and smoking. The same laws on lighting up apply as in the UK, but the ashtrays on tables and burning cigarettes between punters' fingers made us think they were interpreted a little differently in Greece!

    After perusing the small boats in the marina we picked up a mini saucepan for brewing Greek coffee and tea from the many available at an even smaller supermarket. Vicky retreated to the van while Will joined the few fishers on the harbour wall. The water was full of tiny fish, too small to catch, but he did pull up a creature that looked like a leech crossed with a giant centipede that we think was a King Ragworm.

    Following an afternoon snack of Kalamata olives and cashews, we treated ourselves to a takeaway from the only place open; a gyros shop. Will's pita was wrapped around kebab meat, salad and tzatziki sauce, while chips acted as a substitute meat for Vicky. Together with a couple of Mythos beers it came to less than €10.

    We had a restless night listening to dogs barking, thunder rumbling, torrential rain and in the morning, construction machines renovating the boulevard. Plateria was a good first stop, but it was time to start touring!
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  • Day1240

    Voyage to Greece!

    November 18, 2019, Adriatic Sea ⋅ ☀️ 16 °C

    Today is the day! We are embarking on an 8.5 hour voyage from Brindisi, on the south east coast of Italy, to Igoumenitsa, a port in north western Greece! Will booked us on to a 1pm sailing with Grimaldi Lines via the Direct Ferries website about a week ago for €295. A sizeable outlay, but less than we'd feared. We'd initially wanted to disembark at Corfu, but there are no sailings at this time of year.

    Even though we were only a few kilometres away, we rose early and arrived at Brindisi port 4 hours before departure because we were concerned about a note on the booking confirmation saying we needed to print our tickets. Being used to a drive through check-in we attempted to do just that, but were told to turn around. Parking up we got out and entered an atrium containing booths for a range of ferry companies, most of them not yet open. A group of lorry drivers were gathered and seeing our lost expressions, directed us to the non-freight window. After standing around for 15min the blind was raised and to our relief the attendant accepted our e-tickets without mentioning anything about paper.

    We left it a little while before attempting re-entry to the port and this time were directed into a car park to wait for check-in. At 11am, 2 hours prior to departure, we were allowed to proceed to the loading lanes. Again we found ourselves unsure; do we join the cars or the lorries? Vicky found an official to ask and we were allotted a lane all to ourselves. We didn't have to wait too long before the rusty electric gate ahead of us was opened, our boarding passes and passports checked and we were on to the next stage.

    The port had a distinct lack of directions so we were glad of the people in high vis vests motioning for us to turn away from the only ship in sight and towards the one hiding round the corner, whose name 'Corfu', thankfully tallied with our boarding passes.

    We parked up for another hour watching HGVs, mostly from Bulgaria, backing onto the cargo deck. Having suffered from sea sickness on our Santander - Portsmouth crossing, Vicky in particular was grateful that the high winds of the last few days had abated, leaving a brilliant blue sky and a bright sun which warmed the air to 20°C. As well as Bulgarian vehicles we spotted registration plates from Turkey, Iran, Spain, Italy, Romania and Poland. We were the only Brits, the only motorhome and Vicky was one of only a handful of women. This wasn't your average holiday cruise!

    Finally it was our turn to drive up the loading ramp onto to the cargo deck. After a few flights of stairs we found ourselves a comfy corner bench with a table and couple of armchairs. There were a few more women in this lounge and one family with a young child. Most lorry drivers had brought rugs and cushions to catch up on kip, some choosing to stretch out on the floor of the unused soft play room or on the open air deck, while others nabbed the padded benches. It wasn't crowded and was quiet enough. Leaving Italy behind, we headed out onto the open sea. At the point where the sun began to cast warmer colours over the Adriatic we lost sight of any land and soon afterwards the sun set.

    There was an board eatery, but we'd had an early lunch and packed supplies, so snacked on fruit, crispbreads with peanut butter and jam, then feta salad for tea. Will had cooked up some ginger biscuits and made crystallized ginger to ward off any sea sickness. Vicky chomped through them and thankfully wasn't troubled with it on this crossing.

    As evening drew on lights began to appear out of the darkness. The ferry passed between the island of Corfu and the Albanian mainland, before being channelled in to the long bay of Igoumenitsa. Docking was so smooth we had a bit of a shock when we looked outside to find concrete and lorries as opposed to inky black water!

    Once the doors were opened, others were in a real rush to disembark. They must have zoomed away into the night because we found ourselves with nobody to follow out of the port. Officials and directions were few and far between and with the added complication of the Greek alphabet, we were lucky to find the exit, despite Will's emerging knowledge of the language!

    Although it was nearly 10pm we both felt a surge of excitement as we drove along the winding Greek coastal road, shrubs overhanging from either side and the majority of signs graffitid beyond usefulness. Vicky had never been to Greece before and it had been many years since Will's brief visit as a teacher on a school trip. What would the people, the scenery, the food and the weather be like? Would we enjoy Christmas here? What highs and lows would our journey bring? Greece will be the 21st foreign country we explore on this tour and although nervous, we were feeling very excited for the 7 weeks ahead of us!

    To watch a 7 minute video of our crossing and arrival, click here: https://youtu.be/cgbSS04Ye2E
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