8 July Thursday
Cycled to Navodari again
for more veg and to visit the Post Office. Bad move.
It was giro day. The post office was heaving, which
gives some indication of the high unemployment levels
even in this relatively industrial and tourist area.
We are informed that families receive about £10 per
week. Basic food is cheap but it needs to be at that
rate. Hopefully the many young people still living at
home, if unemployed also receive some benefits because
£10 wouldn’t do much more than keep the average family
in bread. Hunt for somewhere to fill up our gas bottle.
It looks like we will have to try the decanting method.
9 July Friday
We catch the bus to
Constanta to have a look at Romania’s second city. We
did not find much of interest and historic sites like
the roman mosaic museum were pretty dilapidated. Irreplaceable
roman artifacts in the square, in front of the museum,
were skirted round by open utility trenches and ineffective
yellow tape. As a huge contrast the marina harboured
a number of expensive yachts. Teenage kids were hurling
themselves off the quayside and any high vantage point,
including the bridge of a huge dredger into the murky
On return to the campsite
we made closer contact with Nightingales. The kids belt
round the camp on our bikes and take turns in flying
our kite on the beach. There is a real story to Nightingales
one that we intend to find more about. The group are
organised by Dave Savage a laid back English, thirty
something, ex voluntary aid worker to an orphanage in
Cernavoda, a town on the Danube an hour from here. Heather
thinks he should be made a Saint because of his achievements.
His frustration at the inadequate support for the kids
in “Salon 18”, who were shut away from the others in
appalling conditions and given no stimulation, resulted
in him after quite a struggle in 1996 fostering all
30 of them. Salon 18 was for the HIV+ kids, infected
by the state blood transfusions given them when they
were young and undernourished. 86% of HIV+ people in
Romania are kids because of this well- intentioned but
Since then Dave has
renovated a property in which they live, (Casa Fericiri),
and built a school to educate them (to which local families
try to send their kids, as it is better than the State
School). He is in the process of building a community
centre and is looking to their future and how to find
them jobs or set them up businesses. As he admits before
he started this project,(he was a telecommunications
engineer) he hadn’t a clue about, HIV, kids, education
or building. We are so impressed by the fantastic job
he has done with these kids that next week we are going
to Cernavoda to visit the home and school. To find out
more about Nightingales have a look on the internet.
If you like what you see you can always help financially
(it costs £4000 a month to run) or as a volunteer. Anybody,
who knows Sophie Pritchard from Bentham, can ask her
because she spent three months here in the orphanage
and still fundraises. Romania is no longer as trendy
a place for aid as it once was. Perhaps because we have
the impression that the problems are resolved. In reality
the Romanian government are doing the necessary for
entry into the EEC and places like Casa Fericiri do
not appear as a statistic, as it is seen as David’s
problem not the State’s. No-one knows how long these
kids future may be. They have lost 16 to the disease
since 1996 but those that remain are strong, appear
healthy, well fed, well adjusted, sociable, polite young
people, with strong characters. They are a large family
and give and take from each other, David and the volunteers
love and affection. It is very humbling.
10 July Saturday.
Its Nightingale’s last
day. We spend the morning taking group and individual
photos and printing out copies for the kids to take
with them. (We need to buy more paper and ink.) The
kids are ferried home in 3 trips. Nightingales need
a new minibus, this one needs push starting every time
it sets off. Romanian law will not let David import
a minibus over three years old, and the charity can
neither afford nor needs a new bus. On the second trip,
the overloaded roof-rack breaks causing major problems.
They do just manage to get nearly all the last load
of equipment and people all inside the minibus. It is
just yet another problem to be overcome and is not a
big deal. We will deliver the remaining stack of plastic
chairs and a pop-up frame. What the day has allowed
us to do is get to know the volunteers better and we
are impressed by their dedication not just to David’s
project but the Cernavoda orphanage from which the kids
came. Volunteers is a misnomer. They actually pay their
own flights and a small contribution for board and lodging.
11 July Sunday
Its very quiet with
no kids to greet us in the morning. We are still awaiting
our insurance documentation so we pack the rucksack
and walk up the beach to sunbathe nearer the centre.
The wind off the sea is cold but the sun is still tanning.
12 July Monday
Heather puts on a one
woman fashion show, trying on all the clothes she has
brought with her and not needed. Some fit more snugly
than before as surprisingly, this austere life of travel
has temporarily made her more voluptuous than before.
I am not complaining.
We eat out in the campsite
bar. Richard orders from memory without his food list
he has so carefully compiled for such an occasion. The
two portions of stuffed vine leaves he thinks he has
ordered for himself turn out to be two heaps of cornmeal
pollenta. He hastily has to order something to go with
it. Guess what ? The stew that came was accompanied
by more pollenta !
We meet some interesting
locals from Brasov, who have given us some information
about another orphanage run by a British charity training
young kids for self employment. They have also invited
us to visit them in Brasov on our return from Greece
and take us into the mountains and show us the area
13 July Tuesday
The weather has turned
stormy. It is the same all over Europe, snowing in Germany
apparently. Heather has decided to make lentil soup.
All the pans we own are full of liquid. We think that
the recipe has a misprint and that it serves 60 not
Its 42 degrees in Greece.
We are desperate to move on but our cheque for insurance
still has not arrived in Manchester yet.
14 July Wednesday
We wake up to find that
Heather’s flip flops (left outside the camper overnight)
have once more been pinched by the campsite dogs. I
expect she covered them in something tasty as she will
do anything for a new pair. Flip flops recovered from
far corners of site only slightly chewed. Not badly
enough to merit replacing. Try again Heather.
15th July Thursday
Decide to move on we
have been here too long. So we pack up and head off
to Cernavoda to visit the kids we met.
We arrived in the evening
and found Casa Fericirii the house David had built for
the HIV kids he rescued from the orphanage. We wander
into the kitchen and are met by a rapturous greeting
by Daskaluic and Paul(pronounced Powl) they hugged us
and generally ran around like headless chickens Das
repeatedly saying “I was just thinking about you English
… thinking you not come … then my God … you here … it
is a miracle. “ We were them hastily introduced to kids
we hadn’t met and the Mothers. One of the kids went
looking for Ben, a 21 year old lad, who teaches at the
school. He has been there for 2 years “should probably
be at University but I can’t leave” .We parked the van
with the help it seemed of everybody, then Ben rang
David and delivered us to his house. .David offered
a bed and said we could stay for as long as we wanted.
He shares his house with his girlfriend Elena and three
teenage girls one original from the orphanage and the
others David has taken in because of problems at home.
Now you tell me he’s not a saint. .Last year he received
an MBE for his work.
16th July Friday
Awoke late. Well we
are not used to a whole bedroom to ourselves. David
had been on the building site since 8am and Elena in
the office. The girls are still in bed. Thank goodness
we are not the last up. When the girls get up they start
cleaning. Three whirlwinds each with their own jobs.
A good time to say a little about them but not too much
because I would not like to breach their confidentiality.
Let’s just say that they have had a very sad childhood
till David came along, They are all beautiful girls
with the most wonderful outgoing personalities, And
I tell you if we were to bring them back to Bentham
they wouldn’t half cause a stir in the Bull.
We leave them to clean
and go and search out David and the rest of the kids.
David is on the site
of the new Community Centre with 6 builders Ben + volunteers
and 3 of the lads from the house. Now remembering that
these lads are HIV the only other people I have seen
working physically that hard is Richard’s Brother Nick
and Martin Cowgill, Their enthusiasm is brill and their
language better than Martins. I decide to go and see
the other kids while Rich goes to the office to investigate
funding for Romanian charities.
The kids are desperate
to get inside the van, so I decide they can come in
and I will bake cakes. Das is in and out because we
have given them the use of our bikes and being a rather
hyperactive kid can’t sit still for long. He is bright,
very bright, and speaks very good English. He has taught
himself by asking the numerous English Volunteers who
go there. I set off with 4 in the van and end up with
8, playing cards, putting on my makeup, sat in driving
seat pretending to drive and Paul, who I am sure should
be a chef helps me. In fact he does it all, Paul speaks
the odd word in English and when I tell him we need
3 tsp of baking powder I am amazed when he says ”Heather
problem. Finish” only to realise that he has tipped
the lot in the cake mix thinking I meant 3oz. I try
and scoop the already frothing mass out of the bowl
and Paul and I have a good laugh. I cant explain the
joy and love you get from these kids it is very humbling
.We eventually make 3 choc cakes and a carrot and walnut
cake. They look scrummy.
17th July Sat
As a thank you to all
at Cernavoda we cooked an Indian meal for all the volunteers,
Ben, and Dave’s household (14 in all). All was going
well until we realised the limitations of Dave’s state
of the art kitchen. The power supply. The electric oven
and grill were limited and the microwave won’t work
if any other appliance is on. So Tikkas were not the
snurped offerings I prefer, the rice (as usual) was
overcooked, Heather's naan breads were surprisingly
good, the cumin spiced potatoes were junked, but the
veg and korma curries were OK. The success of the meal
were H’s spicy sweetcorn fritters. The guests were very
complimentary despite our disappointment but we felt
that they ate frugally most of the time, so anything
18th July Sun
We set off to Rasova
a village on the banks of the Danube for a days fishing.
When I say we, that is Dave, Ben and Mitti (one of the
builders but Dave’s friend) on bikes an hour ahead of
us and the two of us, Elena, the three girls and Sally
in the camper. The truck is perfect for forays like
this. Half way there we meet up with two forlorn looking
cyclists. Ben’s pedal keeps dropping off and despite
technical Romanian assistance, (the threat of hitting
it with an ever bigger hammer), it won’t fix. So onto
the bike rack with the offending article and off we
It seems that Sunday
is Romanian fishing day. We drop Elena and the girls
off at Elena’s parents for a days corn-husking and other
semi agricultural chores and then go looking for Elena’s
Dad who has started fishing already somewhere along
the very busy banks of the river and associated canals.
We park up next to some dubious looking pipework structures
crossing on to a barge. It is not quite as picturesque
as we imagined. It was a scorching hot day but the fishing
was reasonably continuous, mainly small perch, regine
(queen fish) and the odd carp or tench. In a lull we
spun for Pike (Stuka, always wondered where the German
fighter got its name, very appropriate) and caught one
each about a pound and a half each. All fish went either
in a bucket or into a net. Late afternoon we caught
a lot more fish mainly carp and tench under the unglamorous
pipes. Heather proved her worth both catching fish and
unhooking them. Next phobia to overcome is baiting hooks
! Only downside to the day was that a nice young lad
who had hung around us all day being unofficial ghillie
did a runner with my spinning rod. I try to be trusting,
generous but not flaunting our wealth and the little
buggers still let you down. We heard later that his
father used to chain him outside all night and beat
him. No wonder that he had run away from home. At least
he could catch his tea now.
Back to Elena’s parents
where a fire is quickly lit (using old corn cobs), fish
gutted and scaled (another first for Heather) and a
veritable feast of barbecued fish, bread, a simple garlic
sauce and beer. Back in the UK we would never have dreamt
of eating these fish and they were excellent. Heather
fell for and spent the evening feeding fish heads to
a charming, gap toothed, “punk”, Bedlingtonlike terrier,
which looked rather like a Gremlin.
19th July Mon.
Our insurance documents
finally come through in late afternoon, so we leave
Cernavoda heading for Bulgaria. Map reading error. Scale
of map makes it look like there is a bridge across the
river on my chosen route, which turns out to be a ferry.
The ferry will cost us £7. So we park up for the night
to the sound of the Danube lapping against the bank.
We have seen a lot of this river which seems ever present
in this part of Europe. Lasting memories of Romania
are Dacia cars, hungry kids, Industrial squalor, Mountains,
Horse and carts, Gypsies, Bilberries, overweight Mafia
men and decorative beach babe attachments and obviously
20th July Tues.
We cross the river
and are soon in Bulgaria. As we cross we can see what
looks like a burning airliner in front of a block of
flats. There must be a story there. The roads are pretty
rough with unexpected potholes but on the whole better
than I had expected. We drive on to Sumen visiting a
supermarket to stock up with wine and are escorted out
to chosen route by friendly Bulgarian. We follow his
Lada until we are waved off into the distance. The chosen
route is a main road through a semi mountainous area.
On the map it is a straight red line. We travel through
pretty but unmemorable countryside until we find ourselves
on a single track, forested, mountain pass weaving its
way round a high peak for some 20K. We think we are
on the wrong road. But where could we have gone wrong.
H curses me several times. We stop and ask directions.
Sign language says straight on. Closer inspection of
the map shows a thin barely perceptible black line besides
the straight red line. The key when found indicates
nonchalently “high mountain pass, may be closed due
to snow or rockfall”. The other side of the pass requires
a detour off the “red A road” to actually find roads
passable by automobile and some of those are pitted
and cratered. In fact the map is pretty useless. We
finally arrive at the main road from Sophia to the coast
and park up in the car park of a wayside group of restaurants.
We eat a disappointing meal and settle down to sleep.
It was very noisy all night as this place seems to double
as open air night club into the small hours.
21 July Wed
Having decided that
Bulgaria was not a place we would rush back to we discovered
Plovdiv. Having left the camper in a secure car park/car
wash and getting the truck cleaned in our absence for
7 leva (£2.50) we had just over two hours to do Plovdiv.
Not long enough. The old parts of the city are very
beautiful and the centre very cosmopolitan. We also
met the man with the biggest collection of hand whittled
scale model aeroplanes in the world who wants us to
contact the Guinness Book of Records for him and his
mate a busking folk singer. Not half bad either.
We set off towards Sofia
looking for a non-existent campsite and after several
detours because Bulgarian signs are not very consistent
and to make it worse written in indecipherable cyrillic
script. We hit the motorway and stop at a Service Station/
Lorry Park for a shower and possible stopover. Apres
douche we decide to carry on to the next Service Station
as being motorway there will be one every few miles.
Wrong again. We are soon on the Sofia ring road in the
pitch black looking for the road to Greece. Now here
is a travel tip for cross border journeys. Don’t look
on the signs for intermediate towns but the border town.
This will avoid the several head scratching interludes
perusing maps and interrogation of bewildered locals
who cannot believe you are struggling to follow the
main road to Greece and are likely to end up in Macedonia
instead. By a stroke of luck and (more head scratching)
we realise the border town tip and manage to renegotiate
the right road. The road is black, service stations
are zilch, and we are running out of juice. We finally
find a 24 hr filling station, spend all our remaining
leva on diesel and park up for the night knackered.
22nd July Thursday
It is plain sailing
through the Rila mountains to Greece an area we will
investigate on the way back. We are soon in Thessalonika,
which vies with Genova (Italy) for looney drivers. Despite
a burgeoning motorway network, several roadworks and
choke points make the journey through hard work. Greek
drivers also are a bit like Argentinian Taxi drivers
who feel their manhood is threatened if they aren’t
first away from each set of traffic lights. They overtake,
undertake and given the chance would go straight through
We arrive in Halkidiki
and aim for a campsite at Palouris to park up for a
few days. There are fewer sites in Cassandra region
than there used to be because land values have seen
several being sold off for hotel developments.
23rd July Friday
Decided to leave Rich
in peace to read yet another book and went on a research
expedition to Polychronos to suss out where friends
John and Wendy will be stopping on holiday in a couple
of weeks time. Rich thinks it is about 9k so I set off
on his bike because it is easier to get off the bike
rack. After a couple of kilometres I realise that the
seat is not as comfy as mine. Never mind it is not far
! It is a main road and not pleasant to cycle on, Greek
drivers being boy racers and facing a low afternoon
sun …. It was scorching hot. It is obvious that not
many Greek women ride bikes because I receive non-stop
harassment from drivers pipping horns and making lewd
remarks (but seeing as it was in Greek they may as well
have been selling melons !). I must still look young
I was just starting
to get a froth on and was thinking that I must nearly
be there when I see a sign Polychronos 9K. My God I
don’t believe it. (In Victor Meldrews immortal words
and uttered with his frustration). It’s not that I am
unfit, I have cycled 100K in one day but it’s the heat,
the cars and the seat on Rich’s bike which is now playing
havoc with my ichium, or bum bones to you less medically
minded. I battle on and eventually having had enough
of the continual traffic turn off onto a coastal track,
not knowing if I will reach my destination or not. I
do look definitely uncool. Red faced, soaked in sweat
and walking like I’d just got off John Waynes horse.
I stumble, bike and all, (cos I’ve forgotten the lock
and I would never be forgiven if I got the bike nicked),
into a supermarket for much needed water. I can’t see
very well because the sun lotion I have on my face has
run into my eyes and stings like hell. So I mutter something
incomprehensible to the shopkeeper watching me lean
the bike against a display stand. He shrugs and walks
off grumbling about “Mad English” as I stumble round
the shop. After gulping down a litre of water I feel
better. I buy a kilo of tomatoes, (we must eat that
many a day) and walk around the streets of Polychronos.
It is a typical tourist spot but pleasant. By now I
have forgotten the name of the apartments where they
will stay so my whole journey has been pointless and
now I have to cycle all the bloody way back. After seeing
a road sign I realise that it is at least a 30K round
trip. On arrival back at the camper I text Wendy to
tell her that I have visited Polychronos and that I
went on the bike. Her response “A bike ride, that sounds
like a nice idea” couldn’t have been further from the
24th July Sat
We spend a relaxing
day on the beach. It is boiling hot and certainly cooler
if you float out to sea on your lilo. The campsite beach
is quieter than further up the coast where hoards of
day trippers arrive in their cars. The beach is sandy
but generally stony at the water mark. A rock plateau
is followed by sand as far as you can swim out so it
is not particularly interesting for snorkelling, with
few fish around until evening.
The Greek campers (and
there are lots) on site have set up a village of interesting
little ponderosas. Most are camped for the whole season,
with the men coming after work or at weekends. These
ponderosas comprise often no more than a tatty caravan
with an awning attached but the more elaborate (especially
the ones with prime position next to the beach) have
built exotic Robinson Crusoe like shelters out of Palm
and Bamboo. Others sport patios with colourful lights
and candles and potted plants. They all have barbecues
and most a boat to catch the tasty fish from the Aegian.
H met a Greek couple, both teachers, who spend all 8
weeks of summer here. It must be cheaper for the season
because at 24 euros a night it is expensive for us and
we understand that the Greeks are feeling the pinch
a bit at the moment. Spurred on by this outdoor living
we have a bbq at night and ward off the mosquitos with
our citronella candles. At 10pm it is still 28 degrees.
25th July Sun
Having had a lazy day
yesterday, H decides to make the most of the hot water
on site and wash everything in readiness of wild camping
after tonight. Heather twin tub and the Moroccan bowl
soon have all the bedding “trodden” clean. We decide
to walk to the next resort, which according to Heather’s
recce on bike seems to Richard to be just up the road.
So as it is not far and as it is hot H wears flip flops
against Richards better judgement. We think it is about
3K but after an hours walking there is still no sign.
We are following tracks along the beach and make detours
(some purposefully to visit a beautiful tiny candlelit
church in the middle of nowhere) but mostly enforced
by the contours of the geography and once around a salt
water lake. H’s feet have got sore but she bravely carries
on without complaining until we have walked along a
sandy beach for a couple of kilometres and the stones
play havoc with her bruised and battered toes. Richard
marches on in his comfy trainers. As you can imagine
by now H is pretty tetchy. We arrive in Kapsahora to
find out we have probably walked about 12K. After a
cold beer, a kebab and phone calls we set off back with
H limping, because now she has blisters on the balls
of her feet as well as sores between her toes. We take
short cuts along grubby sandy tracks with endless piles
of rubbish. Fly tipping appears to be a Greek national
sport which makes H really angry. The best thing about
the walk is that we have found lots of places to rough
camp for the future.
26th July Monday
We were up early for
us and set about preparing camper to move on. Major
problem. The automatic valve to empty the loo wouldn’t
work. Richard had horrible visions of being up to his
armpits in unmentionable stuff in order to sort the
problem but an hour under the truck with screwdriver
seeking the problem finally had him tightening a loose
screw and all was well.
We set off to recce
the south of the island before our friends John and
Wendy arrive next week. We find a nice village, Possidi,
and eat an excellent meal. We will be back. It’s Swan
Lake tonight at Siviri so we go hunting tickets and
information. Neither of us has ever been to the ballet,
H is very excited, and to make it even more special
it is outside in Siviri Amphitheatre. We dress up a
little, the first time for months (Richard sporting
his £5 Bulgarian Rolex).
It is only while we
are queuing to get through the gate that it dawns on
us why the campsite had been so quiet each morning.
We weren’t getting up at 9 am each day but 8 am.. H
thought Greece was 3 hours ahead of UK and set the clock
accordingly. The ballet was excellent and location perfect.
The choreography to make girls in tutus look like swans
is very clever. At the most well known overtures the
crowd would burst spontaneously into song to back up
the somewhat disappointing piped music. I doubt that
would go down too well in Covent Garden. Feeling very
cultured we retired to bed in a quiet corner of the
27th July Tuesday
Our overnight billet
after the ballet has been very comfortable despite the
noise of the stage crew dismantling the set. After a
trip to the supermarket, where we overspend (again),
the truck is heaving with food. We have decided that
we need to rough camp for the rest of the week to get
back on budget.
We decide to visit Sittonia
the middle finger of Halkidiki. The third finger is
mainly a monastery reserve, out of bounds to women,
and men need a visa ! We travel gently round the coast
and mountains and mid afternoon come across a nice bay
with good parking facilities. We fish, swim and H bakes
cakes, having decided to rough camp here for the night
despite signs all over the area saying that it is forbidden.
We meet a Greek(living in Brussels) and his family in
a camper and a jovial Macedonian, who explained the
difficulties of tracing the exact bloodlines of people
from his region because of the sexual proactivity of
many races of itinerant soldiers making whoopee with
Macedonian women whilst the men folk were off warring.
Both families have decided to stay the night here too.
We were half way through our barbecue when the “tourist
police” arrived to move us on. “No free camping !”.
An hour and a half after finishing our meal we were
parked by the sea at Kriopigi beach where we had sussed
out rough camping previously.
28th July Wednesday
We decide to stay over
on free camping next to beach at Kriopigi, which has
trees for shade, toilets and a bar. The tourist office
told us that it is free camping here but why are there
not more people, other than the group of gypsies sprawled
at one end of the car park. We can’t understand it..
Launched “yacht” for the first time and Rich rows out
to sea while H enjoys cooling sea breeze. The sea is
very clear with endless white sand. H practices back
rolls off the boat like a deep sea diver and then does
beached whale impressions trying to get back in. It
is a good job we are a bit off shore because H is having
trouble keeping everything in place, clambering into
a slippery blow up boat. Especially “hanging down bits”.
We tend to keep out of the sun until about 3 pm but
actually find the hottest time seems to be about 6 pm.
The sea is a wonderful temperature, we have never swum
in such a warm sea. That night the tourist police come
to the site and move on the gypsies. We think we will
be next but they do not bother us.
29th July Thursday
As we are making breakfast
we hear an English voice, “150 euros fine for wild camping
please". It turns out he is the guy who drives the tourist
train bringing hotel guests down to the beach. You know
the thing we mean (one of Richards pet hates), a tractor
in disguise that most resorts think is a style necessity.
His name is Maurice, originally from Derbyshire but
he and his wife have been out here for 2.5 years. He
warns us that the Police will fine us if we are here
more than 3 days, so in the evening we leave just to
be on the safe side. We drive down to a free camping
area we have found on Sunny Beach, but are a bit concerned
as to how much rubbish there may be. Arriving at night
we park up where we can and soon are lulled to sleep
by the occupants of the caravan next door singing tuneless
Greek folk songs accompanied by a very twangy Bazouki.
30th July Friday
We decide to stay on
this beach a few days and seek out a secluded spot,
next to the sea a bit further up. We can’t believe the
amount of rubbish people leave so H in rubber gloves
armed with plastic bag starts to clear all that near
us. Whilst doing so she meets three blokes employed
to do the same who are depositing rubbish into a skip.
They tell her in Greek that she doesn’t need to clear
up but she insists on clearing our area. H feels strongly
that they should have handed out bags and asked everyone
to help. We feel it is appalling that people do not
respect this beautiful coastline and leave rubbish.
Unfortunately the Greeks seem to be the worst. Richard
successfully mends the blow up boat which was impaled
on a tree whilst strapped to roof of camper on our arrival.
We sit in the shade
of our awning looking out to sea, cooled by the sea
breeze, when suddenly 4 dolphins are circling and diving
out of the water just offshore in front of us. They
give all on the beach a wonderful display for over an
hour. At night we eat fried fish and salad in the light
of our ubiquitous Chinese garden flares listening to
classical music. We finish off with H’s hand mixed chocolate
cake and are about to go to bed already feeling very
smug. There is a loud splash and the noise of a water
spout out at sea. We can see a huge shape swimming and
are convinced it is a whale, especially when it starts
31st July Saturday
One of the problems
with free camping is that if you move away from your
spot in your camper for a while your place may be taken
when you come back. If you leave the camper and walk
you feel you may be open to being broken into. No fear
of the latter here. Campers turn up for the week-end
and pitch their tents. Come Sunday night they pile everything
in the tent, zip it up and leave it for a week or so
until they come back. Many people from Thessalonika
seem to spend all their spare time camping on this part
of Halkidiki. Some with caravans, some with tents and
some just with camp beds and sleep under the stars.
We actually just want to spend all day relaxing (cos
we have such a hard life). Our friends the dolphins
visit us again. Richard walks to the nearby shop for
some water and on the way back is given a lift by our
bazouki playing friend. He and his wife have been up
into the mountains to pick wild oregano and we win a
bunch. Newly dried it is so pungent and fresh, not like
1st August Sunday
After obligatory slow
morning start we cycled to Pefkahoris to use internet
and make a few phone calls (if we can find a phone box
which works). On return to camp Heather has her second
Greek lesson from the lady camped in the tent next door.
It is some amusement to me that none of these Europeans
can manage the “th” sound. So inevitably they call Hedder.
Mind you we can’t pronounce most of their words either.
It’s funny how there are so many different languages
spoken in this part of the world which bear no relationship
to each other at all.
2nd August Monday
We leave tables and
chairs and other territory demarcation symbols and go
shopping in truck. We buy a beach shower (cunning little
devices, basically a plastic bag and shower- head, which
use Solar energy to heat water) to wash off the salt
after bathing. However the one we have bought is useless
and needs modifying. We also go to Polychronos with
the mission of “Finding Nemo”. That’s the apartment
block John and Wendy are in. We are on a logistics trip.
Is there anywhere nearby we can park ? Can we drive
to it ? (lots of these coastal resorts have tortuously
narrow streets, pedestrian areas and lots of delivery
lorries). Naturally we start off at the wrong end of
the promenade and when we find it discover that it is
a stylish little beach bar with attached modern apartments
at the edge of the resort with easy access for a camper.
Perfect. It is, also, pronounced “Nemmo”, hence early
3rd August Tuesday
on internet and efforts to ensure that our updated Green
Card (to get us back through Bulgaria and Romania) and
other important paperwork get to us via John and Wendy
mean Richard cycles twice to Pefkahoris to internet
and phone. John comes up trumps as ever to our rescue.
Richard does however
manage a major achievement and find new wicks for the
garden flares. Costa del fortune but the only ones on
4th August Wednesday
Leave Sunny Beach and
come to paying campsite at Palouris for the night to
top up electric, do the washing and have a really good
shower. We just hope our Sunny Beach spot is still there
when we go back for a night next week.
Thursday 5th to Wednesday
Our good friends John
and Wendy Thistlethwaite arrive on holiday for a week
at Polychronos, but have really made the journey to
meet up with us. We are sat in the bar of Hotel Nemo
waiting for them as they arrive. Their week is really
a weeks holiday for us too so there is no point writing
about our every moment. Needless to say we visited most
of the interesting beaches on Kassandra and ate lots
of good food and wild camped a couple of nights. The
dolphins unfortunately did not come back to visit us
but we experienced a really wild electric storm as we
camped on Sunny Beach and we watched spellbound as lightning
spikes struck many highpoints on Sithonia across the
water and lit up the angry sky. The wind was horrendous
and nearly blew the awning away until we managed to
stow it. Inflatables however did get blown all over,
some never to return.
The camping shower we
bought to hang in a tree and provide hot fresh water
to clean off the salt after our dips in the sea gave
endless moments of hilarity due to its uselessness.
Nothing worked properly on ours whilst everyone else’s
was perfect. Despite many modifications we could not
stop it leaking or dribbling rather than showering.
Richard has noticed
that he is finding it more and more difficult to communicate
than he used to. He would just open his mouth and streams
of intelligent conversation on many topics would venture
forth. After a year on the road with Heather he now
finds conversation more difficult and he cannot remember
words or the wrong ones come out. Some part explanation
of this phenomena was displayed when Wendy on getting
back into the camper one day exclaimed in all earnestness
as she brushed the sand from her feet that she was “turning
her shoes off” ! That’s it Richard has started talking
like a Menopausal woman. They say the best way to learn
a language is to speak it.
Whilst swimming in the
sea at Kriopigi Richard managed to lose his wedding
ring but after a careful co-ordinated search using snorkels
John managed to locate it.
One of the highlights
of the week was a visit to North Skuoni Anchovy festival.
North Skuoni is a compact working fishing village and
secondly a tourist attraction. Each year they celebrate
the bounties of the sea with the festival. Mountains
of deep fried Anchovies are given to the crowds of visitors
to be washed down with copious amounts of home made
Retsina (wine made from pine sap collected from the
trees on the mountain) all free and supported by the
manic clarinet playing of the showman George Mangas.
An obvious local favourite, dressed in black coat, waistcoat
and hat, all dripping with stitched on gold medallions,
Greeks thronged to be photographed with him. He certainly
could play the clarinet in a non-stop whirling Greek
gypsy sort of style or as Heather would say “snake-charming
music”, but more importantly he could pose and prance
for Greece in the forthcoming Athens 2004 if “Posing
and Prancing” had been an Olympic discipline. Heather
and Wendy joined in with the frantic adoring fans, Greek
dancing in front of the stage, and after some initial
shuffling were soon experts, twirling, circling and
sweating with the best of them.
Most of the week we
parked and slept in the small car-park behind Hotel
Nemo and were treated like residents.
12th August Thursday
John and Wendy leave
early afternoon but only after Richard has swapped numerous
read books for a supply of new ones in the hotel “holiday”
library. We return to Golden Sands to be greeted like
long lost friends by our “neighbours” on the beach,
two Greek families, who have erected their tents for
the season under the tree next to our favoured pitch
and regularly leave it during the week to return to
Thessalonika and come back at the weekend or for holiday
Christo, the father
of one family, is desperate to catch octopus and we
have left our boat with him to use to dangle his home-made
lure (a large weighted treble hook adorned with strips
of white carrier bag which masquerades as a ghost like
squid when agitated in the water). My enquiry as to
how big is his catch is greeted with much hilarity.
Our boat sprang a leak as he went out fishing and he
had to return disappointed much to the amusement of
his family and friends. “Father drowned while hunting
monster octopus” would obviously have been an amusing
headline in the Thessalonika Evening News.
13th August Friday
After another gloriously
sunny day we are taken into Palkahouris to watch the
Olympics Opening Ceremony with our Greek friends. All
the Tavernas are heaving and we watch fascinated as
our friends negotiate noisily and with much arm waving
for a table in an already full restaurant, directly
in front of the TV. They succeed and we enjoy a typical
meal of ouzo, salads, various fish, mussels, squid and
of course octopus. They refuse to let us pay. Greeks
are very hospitable.
14th August Saturday
We leave Golden Sands
to head off towards Athens and the Olympics. Our first
port of call is Carrefour, in Thessalonika for the weeks
shop. After months of searching I have finally found
that which I have craved throughout Eastern Europe.
Branston Pickle. Cheese is never the same without it.
We drive on south along the motorway which regularly
changes back to single carriageway until we arrive near
Lamia where we park up next to the sea in a restaurant
15th August Sunday
After a breakfast of
strong coffee, whilst we marvel at the unhealthy eating
habits of various large Greeks, we carry on, but not
before Richard has compounded yet another of his theories
of how different nations choose their wives. The Greek
men he has decided like ample women, who feed them well,
because if the wives are overweight they cannot complain
about the size or eating ability of their husbands.
We did find some Greek
self analysis in a pre Olympic paper worth reporting.
- They talk about
the past rather than the future.
- They consider themselves
(unfounded) the best lovers in the world.
- They feel they
have many enemies.
- They think that
a good climate and its natural beauty are all that
is required for Greece to be paradise on earth.
- They imitate rather
- They are windbags,
impatient and disorganised.
- They lack self
- They send more
than they earn.
- They eat too much,
take little exercise and hence are most obese Europeans.
- They are humorous,
hospitable and fun loving.
- They get things
done and fulfill obligations but normally at the
- They can surprise
people with their performance levels (ie European
- They claim to be
the second hardest working people after the Japanese.
Certainly some of these
points ring true.
We arrive in Athens
on a deserted motorway with no idea where to go. After
being turned back from the Athletes Village, where we
thought there may be information we see large pink direction
signs to the boxing hall at Peristeri and after flagging
down some very friendly police are directed to the nearest
Ticket booth. We buy tickets for Rowing, Athletics and
the Womens Marathon for starters and head off towards
the International Rowing Centre at Schineas past Marathon
Lake and the Marathon start itself. Empty recently built,
but perhaps not quite finished, dual carriageways lead
towards Schineas but police turn us back from the centre
itself. We take a rural track to the beach and end up
half a mile from the Rowing Centre. We park in the large
car-park of a bar/restaurant with its own beach bar,
and in the evening drink beer and watch the Olympics
inside, surrounded by the Italian and Dutch rowing teams.
Vassilis, mine host, assures us over a free welcome
glass of vodka, that we can stay in the car park as
long as we want, watch TV whenever we want and basically
use the place as our own. Real Greek hospitality. The
teams have been eating huge platefuls of healthy salads
and fruit from a very cost-effective buffet. His and
his staff’s friendliness and desire to help is fantastic.
16th August Monday
We venture into Athens
in the camper seeking the nearest metro interchange.
We follow the blue line indicating the racing line on
the marathon route,( which later in the week we hope
Paula Ratcliffe will blitz), hunting the tube. There
are no signs so we fail miserably until we find a different
metro station by accident. We have to park a kilometre
away but are soon heading into Athens on a spotless,
modern underground system. The system is free throughout
the Olympics to ticket holders. We realise that being
based by the rowing has difficult transport implications
because it is 30K out of town, has limited Olympic bus
routes and normal service buses are sporadic and not
timed to fit in with late events.
We embark at Monastiraki
in the heart of ancient Athens and do the tourist bit
of Acropolis and other ancient monuments, marvelling
at man’s ingenuity to build such structures without
17th August Tuesday
We walked to Marathon
via the Olympic Rowing Centre and met the parents of
a Brit swimmer (200 metres backstroke) who were very
nervous about his next days performance. His mother
gets stomach cramp at the mere thought of him competing
and in a protective mothering way to avoid disappointment
rates his chances of getting beyond the first heat as
limited. He eventually just misses a medal in 4th despite
the second fastest time in the semis. How exciting but
unlucky. We are starting to feel frustrated that the
Olympics seem to be going on around us and we are not
yet involved. Transport to events is a problem we need
18th August Wednesday
Up early for our first
event. Rowing. We join up with other Brits to flag wave
and cheer our competitors to discover that they too
are family supporting their son in the British 8. We
are on a steep learning curve to learn about rowing
but certainly enjoy watching it with sterling performances
from the men’s coxless four, the womens double sculls
and three nail-biting finishes where we were pipped
at the post. This included the British men’s 8, who
were desperately close and your heart felt for crestfallen
family and gutted crews. We also met up with Heather’s
cousins Ian and Robert, who coincidentally also knew
the family with whom we were sat. The rowing fraternity
is very close knit.
We decided that we had
to sort out travelling to Athens and set off seeking
metro interchanges and finally found where we needed
to go (Doukissis Plakentias) after an abortive trip
to the airport. So we parked and went to the Olympic
stadium seeking information. We bought tickets for the
evening basketball and set off by transport to the Hellinko
stadium, home of Basketball, Softball, Baseball, Hockey,
Fencing and much more. Each series of disciplines has
its own brand new stadium all over the city, with transport
links between. Unfortunately our tram connection from
the metro took over an hour to arrive and then we crawled
snail-like along the coast in sweltering heat packed
in like sardines. H was busting a gut for the loo too
so had a most uncomfortable journey. The games were
good, and stadium reasonably full downstairs but with
loads of spare capacity. Our journey back was very efficient
by bus and metro. We parked up in our car park for 1.30
am ready for an early start again for rowing on the
morrow. The rowing centre suffers from bad crosswinds
at this time of year (was cancelled on Monday) so the
action tends to be early morning.
19th August Thursday
Another fine mornings
rowing with 2 GB crews who just failed to qualify for
A finals on Wednesday winning their B finals to make
amends. Another scorching day.
20th August Friday
Foolishly let Heather
talk me into a walk, just along to Marathon to find
an ATM and get exercise. We went via the empty new dual
carriageways built for the Olympics to the Rowing Centre,
which no doubt will stimulate residential development
out there in the next few years. You could do worse.
Mountains. Lakes and a glorious coast nearby, with the
city life of Athens 30 kms away. However it was airless
and stifling. We were dripping after the 7 km walk there
and as we looked at the Olympic arena from which the
Marathon would start and the blue line painted on the
tarmac the athletes would follow for 26 odd miles ,
we mused on how hard a run it would be to complete the
course in such conditions.
Our eagerly awaited
first evening of Athletics at (OAKA) the main Olympic
stadium complex had arrived. The atmosphere there was
fantastic. We walked around the various stadia, tennis,
swimming, velodrome and the fantastic athletics track
mesmerised by the stunning architecture. There are bars,
big screens, TV studios and loads to entertain. One
of the many good aspects of these games is the relatively
inexpensive refreshments, 2 euros a beer. We could actually
go on for pages with positive things about these Olympics.
They are friendly and the abundant volunteers are helpful,
cheerful, good fun and relaxed. The security screening
is efficient and quick and carried out in an un-officious
way. The transport system of buses and metro is clean,
modern, frequent and free if you have Olympic tickets.
The stadia are all new and Athens as a venue is fantastic,
vibrant, colourful and safe and very warm !. We have
seen no problems, drunkenness or aggressive incidents.
Despite alcohol being abundant and served to all hours.
You could not expect that back in the UK. There are
a few problems with the games. Ticket distribution and
Corporate purchasing means that the box office has few
or no tickets for many events but we later find out
that a trip to Monastiraki where the touts hang out
will get you nearly any ticket you want at face value.
Hotel accommodation can be extortionate. We met a couple
paying 300 euros per night for a room in a very basic
hotel. Information on results and daily events can be
hard to find too as are British newspapers until we
discover paper stands at Syntagma square.. Much is on
the internet but little on paper. If you are going to
an event the daily program is excellent and lists everything
and for us it has been the only way we could tell who
had qualified in athletics. The most negative angle
of the games for us has been the way it has been portrayed
by the British press. It has put back Anglo/Greek relations
a long way. London could learn much from Athens for
its 2012 bid.
The night’s athletics
are brilliant, Women’s heptathlon, various other heats
with all the best men and women sprinters in the world.
An electric atmosphere only interrupted by our first
participation in Mexican waves. The highlight however
is the men’s 10000 metres final. Three Ethiopians including
Bekele the world record holder and the legendary Gabriele
Hailesallasie are taking on the world looking for 123.
The pace is blistering and at the bell Bekele takes
off as if rocket propelled. You can hear the crowd gasp
in awe. A last lap of 53 seconds after 6 miles is unbelievable.
The Ethiopians come 1,2 and 4 and the celebrations as
their colourful supporters, dressed in yellow, green
and red, invade the track are euphoric. The track-side
security are at a loss with how to deal with such a
happy throng as pandemonium reigns on the track.
We eventually leave
the complex and drive back to Schineas, snuggling down
to sleep by about 2.30 am ready for a 6.45 am call before
the rowing on Saturday.
21 August Saturday
We are now Rowing aficionados
and despite having no tickets venture to the rowing
centre prepared to watch the GB men’s cox-less four
of Pinsent, Coode, Cracknell and Williams from the road
if necessary. Luckily we pick up a pair of prime seat
tickets at face value from a Hungarian boy whose team
have been knocked out. Ecstatically we enter the packed
stand and soon by the wonders of texting track down
Heather’s cousins and the Black Sheep Rowing Club once
more. The atmosphere is electric and you can’t help
join in other nation’s triumphs. We are next to Slovenians
and Croatians both of whom celebrate Silver medals in
euphoric style. The Slovenian boat throwing their laurel
leaves to their supporters and the Croatians singing
their equivalent of Ilkley Moor Bar Tat, holding the
TV boom microphone Robbie Williams style. In a state
of nationalistic fervour, along with hundreds of other
flag waving Brits, we cheer the GB coxless four to the
narrowest of victories. The roar and cheering is magical
as the GB boat parades in front of its adoring fans.
As it approaches our stand Ian grabs Heather’s Union
Jack Flag, vaults the security fence, side-stepping
(like an English rugby centre) volunteers intent on
interception and wades into the water to pass our flag
into the boat. Pinsent raises it aloft triumphantly
to even more GB cheers. Heather nearly in tears as her
flag is in GB boat, wrapped round some muscular Gold
Medallist. You cannot imagine the emotion in singing
the National Anthem at the top of your voice with thousands
of others after such an important and close race. No
wonder it reduced Pinsent to tears or was that our singing
We return to our camper,
still in Vassilis’s bar car park and head for the beach
for a much needed rest.! It’s hard work winning gold
medals. Our sunbathing is disturbed by the Italian press
bringing two of the lads we have seen each night eating
their tea sporting bronze medals, laurel leaves and
bouquets to be photographed on the beach. They radiate
success and happiness, which we snap. The British Press
can learn from this scene. They tend to knock bronze
medallists as being inferior. Third best in the world,
which is a very big place deserves celebration. We set
up office in the bar and print off this picture for
Vassilis to go with his collage of other Olympic memorabilia
and signed Italian rowing lycra. Inevitably we end up
printing staff photos..
22nd August Sunday
Left Schineas after
more staff photos and farewell to Vassilis. Drove straight
to Metro interchange car-park at Doukissis Plakentias
and after abortively trying to get into the Olympic
Stadium to chill for a few hours set off into town and
bought more athletics tickets for the following day.
We had originally intended to leave (hopefully on a
high) after tonight’s women’s marathon but are now very
keen to see as much of the Olympics as budget will allow.
After hunting for a new Union Jack to replace one lost
to Pinsent and Co and buying Olympic souvenirs for kids
back home we join the thousands of other GB and Paula
Radcliffe fans in the Panathenaikos Stadium for the
Marathon finish. It has just started when we get in
and the atmosphere is electric, expectant and fun. Fans
of all nationalities are singing and dancing to the
music played for their entertainment. Heather joins
in a line of Greeks showing all she has learned at Halkidiki.
A stray dog roaming the stadium is the first to cross
the finish line but is neatly tackled by a volunteer
to loud cheers.
The stadium is sweltering
and the big screen shows the toll the heat is having
on the athletes on the course stretched out along the
never-ending blue line. We can all see that Paula is
struggling but no-one is ready for the sad sight of
her looking bewildered and beaten at the 22 mile mark.
We Brits had built her up to being a racing certainty
forgetting that there was 26 miles of sweltering tarmac
and 80 odd other competitors to whom this race was also
the culmination of their athletic careers that had to
be overcome first. We thought Oh so wrongly that she
just had to turn up. As Paula stopped, a deadly hush
filled the stadium. You could hear a pin drop. Crestfallen
British fans sportingly applaud the tiny 4ft 11in Japanese
victrix but it is not the tumultuous winning welcome
we had all hoped. We were however sat next to the sister
of the first Brit home, Liz Yelling in 25th , and shared
some of their family emotions. The sister had just failed
to qualify herself by seconds for the event and was
a bag of nerves throughout the race and full of tears
of pride when Liz although obviously exhausted still
managed to sprint past another competitor to gain a
place in the stadium.
On leaving the stadium,
after photographing the diminutive Gold medallist, choked
with emotion trying to thank her fans but settling for
bows, smiles and tears of joy we headed back into town.
We ate in a pavement café, sharing experiences, with
a young British couple paying exorbitant rates for their
accommodation. 300 euros (£200 plus) for a basic room
in an average hotel. No wonder many people stayed away.
We have been lucky to have had only ticket costs. We
then walked until 2.30am along the beautiful pedestrianised
streets of Athens past the floodlit Temple of Zeus and
the Acropolis amongst street entertainers and thousands
of tourists and Greeks alike revelling in the balmy
23 August Monday
Up early for a 9.00am
start at the Olympic Stadium to watch various heats
and ceremonies but mainly to cheer on Dean Macey GB’s
oft injured but charismatic decathlete. Contrary to
many people’s opinion that decathletes only do this
event because they did not make it to a high level at
any particular event, they actually do it because they
can do 10 events to a high level. We cheer Dean’s every
effort and are happy to be counted as two of his “awesome”
fans as he described his supporters in the GB press
which help him achieve excellent results in the end
narrowly missing out on a medal.
We return to the stadium
for the evening session to cheer Dean on some more but
more importantly to cheer until nearly hoarse as Kelly
Holmes battled successfully for Gold in the 800 metres.
We sang the National Anthem again at the top of our
voices and had our hands shaken by other spectators
for our patriotic fervour. Other spectators throughout
these games have been fantastic but a Pole we met described
the Brits as the best supporters in the world. The Greeks
of course cheer “Hellas, Hellas” at the mere mention
of their athletes and have no doubt spurred them on
to greater achievements than were expected. Everyone,
however, congratulates each other’s achievements in
one collective cameraderie and share cherished photos
snapped of former athletes such as Lynford “lunchbox”
Christie and Daley Thompson.. The Games are much bigger
than the individuals.
After we finally and
reluctantly leave the stadium, knowing we are leaving
Athens tomorrow, we head across to the Samsung sponsors
stand where a band is playing Rock. As we cross the
atrium the friendliness of the volunteers comes across
all the time, especially where a Scot has borrowed one’s
microphone and is singing “Flower of Scotland” badly
but in tune, to their amusement. The band are OK, and
a happy crowd is dancing and cavorting, but suddenly
come alive when an uninvited singer joins them on the
stage and belts out Smoke on the Water, Alright Now
and other Rock classics. The band are somewhat gob-smacked
(especially the lead singer now relegated to tambourine)
by the power and professionalism of this unknown, who
took over the band and milked the audience. We are sure
we should know who he is because he was no ordinary
pub singer. All he would say was that he was Harry a
Greek Australian. On our way out we met an ex-pat now
living in USA with his young son wrapped in a Union
Jack. The guy explained how he had come to Athens to
support American gymnasts but seeing so many British
supporters, flags and hearing the national anthem sung
was making him really home-sick. As we waited for the
bus a Polish lad selling plastic trumpets just gave
us two because we were British. The friendliness of
everyone is overwhelming.
24th August Tuesday
After another night
in the Metro Interchange car-park (we live a glamorous
life), we decide to spend the morning in Athens to take
in the flavour once more before leaving. We optimistically
try the ticket touts (nearly all Cockney) once more
for cheap Athletic’s tickets for tonight but there are
none so we decide to leave on a high. We eat lunch in
a typical taverna just off Monastiraki, which appears
to be the “pin collecting” centre of the Olympics. We
had no idea that pin or badge collecting was so big
in the rest of the world. We tube back to the camper.
We have liked Athens, it’s historical reputation as
a dirty, traffic ridden, noisy city in our minds refuted.
We will come back before long and island hop.
We set off West and
travel to Athova, near Delphi, one of the Mount Parnassos
ski resorts. It is a very attractive chic little town
with fabulous views over the valley below and across
at other Mountain ranges. We spend the evening watching
the Olympics in a nice bar and talking until the small
hours to a charming Canadian couple, who originated
from Scotland some 35 years ago. The drinking water
for the bar is taken from a permanently flowing gravity
driven fountain emanating from high up in the mountains.
Just take your glass and fill it up. Despite the water
being free we seem to have spent an arm and a leg on
coffees, metaxa and a portion of squid. Seeing as it
early morning and we are knackered, we sleep where we
are parked up on roadside on the edge of town.
25th August Wednesday
5 am. There is a knocking
on the camper door. Can’t be. Yes it’s there again.
Must be the police. Richard peers out of the window
to see a Greek speaking guy gesticulating unintelligibly.
Richard dresses quickly and goes outside. It’s market
day and we are parked where even at this early time
of day stalls of watermelons are nearly erected and
we are in his pitch. Richard drives bleary eyed, Heather
still in bed, to the nearest lay-by and there we sleep
until mid morning.
It is only about 10km
to Delphi, the once spiritual and cultural capital of
Greece back in 5000BC. The temples, theatre, stadium
and other buildings must have been amazing in their
day because they are still fantastic now even as ruins.
We carry on to a campsite on the beach at Kirra near
The afternoon is spent
catching up with our mountain of laundry and lugubriating
in nice hot showers. The evening is spent, like all
the evenings will be until the end of the Olympics,
in a bar with a beer.
26th August Thursday
Another relaxing day,
on the beach, which is quite stony but welcoming, topping
up tans. We hear that general Tourism in Greece is down
50% due to the Olympics and that there is concern about
the post Olympics Greek Economy and if the host of new
stadia will ever be used again. We think that today
is our wedding anniversary. We are not quite sure, having
been married for all of two years.
27th August Friday
We go in fruitless search
of a gas filling station, hard to find in Greece. Visit
a supermarket and muse at cages of turkeys by the roadside
at Kirra. Is this part of a ritual at the forthcoming
Fiesta on Saturday night. We have visions of a Greek
equivalent of the bull-run at Pamplona but with turkeys
or some demonic sacrificial ceremony but the answer
is that they are for sale to be fattened up for Christmas.
28th August Saturday
A morning on the beach
relaxing preparing us for the strenuous efforts of supporting
Kelly Holmes in the 1500 metres final tonight. It would
be too perfect for her to get 2 golds. Arrive at the
bar to get prime position to watch athletics. Doesn’t
look good. In their normal fashion of “let’s watch anything
Greek however mundane”, the campsite owner and waiter
are watching synchronised swimming ! Now in the scheme
of things, in my mind, co-ordinated poncing about, underwater,
without drowning and still looking decorative is very
clever but does not compare with a gut wrenching, use
up every ounce of energy, 1500 metres round the Olympic
track. The Greeks change to basketball but foolishly
leave the TV arena. In a flash we are in and change
channels to see Kelly at the 800 metre mark, in prime
position ready to pounce and proudly encourage her flawless
performance to the tape. It is as if we are part of
her, the pleasure we gained from her victory. No doubt
millions of other Brits felt the same and none of us
have any real idea of the hard work that has gone into
Athletics over we walk
down to the “Saints day” festivities in Kirra. It is
really an excuse for a nosh and booze up, a huge street
market and wearing the Sunday best. The street market
sells mainly, socks, shoes, clothes, naff Chinese knick
knacks, some kids toys, tools and cheap electronics
and a bit of jewellery. Some hundred stalls in all with
lots of duplication. We walked onto the quay and were
passing a small car, when the fisherman that owned it
who was on the rocks some 5 yds away let out what sounded
like a stream of expletives in Greek. ”English, English”,
we apologised for whatever we had done to upset him.
“There’s a new packet of cigarettes on the front seat
of the car, could you pass them please”, he retorted
in flawless English. We couldn’t help but think visitors
to Glasgow must feel the same when greeted with an aggressive
sounding but actually friendly mouthful of gutteral
29th August Sunday
Left Kirra and drove
to Vassiliki. Stopped off at Nafpaktos a lively Greek
holiday resort across the straits from Patras that we
really liked. It has a really old castle and seaside
battlements and a history of naval conflict, which now
host pavement cafes and good views of the new bridge
across to Patras and the Pelepones.
We arrived early evening
in Vassiliki, just in time to find a beer and TV for
the end of the men’s marathon. Vassiliki has a lovely
relaxed atmosphere, loads of reasonably priced water
front restaurants and free parking on the ferry dock.
It is also one of the best windsurfing bays in the world
because of thermals which appear most afternoons offering
seriously quick sailing.
30th August Monday
Sunbathed on nearby
beach and generally chilled out. Spotted various people
mentioned in despatches by Rick and Helen Deakin, who
had given us tips on free camping and the habits of
regular Brits who summered here. They had been here
the previous summer and we met them skiing in Bourg
St Maurice back in January. They then spent the following
four months in Australia and Canada before returning
to UK and work after their career breaks. We were looking
forwards to meeting them again in UK to catch up with
31st August Tuesday
Spent 20 euros each
on an excellent boat trip to the isles of Cephalonia
(didn’t spot Captain Corelli), Ithaka, some impressive
caves where a submarine lurked in WW2 and ended up swimming
near to the Onassis island of Spiros.
1st September Wednesday
“You must be David Bond”,
I said to the Brit rough camping in the VW Westfalia
on the quay next to us. He was gobsmacked until I explained
that Rick and Helen had told us to look out for him
as a Vassiliki regular. Our turn to be gobsmacked when
he told us that they were in Vassiliki this week and
would be in the Sail Winds bar after 1330hrs. We plotted
on how to surprise them but in the end could not keep
a straight face as it dawned on them who the smiling
strangers were approaching their table. It was their
turn to be gobsmacked. We talked non stop until gone
1800hrs without breath, marvelling at how time could
fly by. Heather rang Lisa and was worried by the fact
she sounded poorly. She had an awful headache. When
H rang a little later, she was even more worried to
hear that Lisa was being taken into hospital for a checkup.
In the evening we joined the rest of the Brit contingent
for a great meal in a little taverna up in the mountains.
Garlic and herb stuffed chicken, kidneys wrapped in
something unmentionable, charcoal grilled souvlaki and
liver, salads, chips copious amounts of red wine. Back
in Vassiliki we metaxaed at the “Old Gits bar” their
regular haunt, overshadowed by the fact that we still
weren’t sure what was going on with Lisa. Sharron Heather’s
niece (recently out of hospital herself) kept us up
to date with developments.
2nd September Thursday
Rick is a wind surfer
and Helen had decided at long last to have a go. We
said that we would love to try too, so decided to share
a beginner’s board between the three of us. Rick was
very patient, considering he was the one in the water
for nearly three hours, giving various instructions.
“Keep your weight on your back leg, turn your front
foot to face the way your going, dip your sail, pull
your bum in, walk your board round, get your balance”.
All this and avoid on-coming dinghies and other beginner
wind surfers. All very stressful but great fun and something
we knew we would do again. Lisa is apparently improving,
but the fact she is 30 weeks pregnant means that they
are keeping an eye on her.
3rd September Friday
Arranged to meet Helen
and Rick before we moved on and promised we would get
together very soon when back in UK.. It was sad to leave
Vassiliki but I am sure we will go back again. On another
boiling hot day we set off heading for Sivota. On route
we stopped at a little place called Parga. A
beautiful village placed
on a hill overlooking a very pretty bay. Dare we say
yet another. Greece is full of pretty villages next
to amazingly clear blue sea. After spending an hour
or so walking up the steep little streets, browsing
in shops and trying to find Rich a job on the internet
we set off again, The phone rang. Always a problem because
it costs us a lot of money to answer it. We didn’t answer
it. However it was persistent. We answered. It was Louise,
Lisa’s friend. She sounded very calm but said the Drs
were worried because Lisa still had an awful headache.
They had decided to do a brain scan. They were thinking
she may have had a cerebral bleed. A mother’s worse
nightmare. Being so far away and not able to do anything.
I quietly panicked for a while then got in touch with
Ian her dad, who also sounded very calm. He said he
would text me if there was any change. In the mean time
I had her, at worst dead, at best in a wheelchair. We
would sell everything and devote the rest of our lives
to her and the baby. We decided, in the meantime, I
would fly home. The next
text from “Ian told me ”no scan ring her now” . “My
God. Get me to a phone box”, seeing we only had about
£1.50 left on the mobile. I rang to hear a very weary
voice. It was Lisa telling me she was ok. Not to worry.
She was feeling a lot better. The doctors now think
it is a virus. Children seem to become even more precious
to you the longer you have them, if that’s possible.
“Phew! lets get pissed” We obliged.
4th September Saturday
Sivota is a charming
little place, with a newly renovated sea front, dotted
with atmospheric restaurants and loads of yachts both
private and tour company flotillas. Richard spent a
lot of time in his past life finding and spending European
money. Greece has obviously been expert at drawing it
down from the number of signs displaying Leader II and
other program logos. But for us the sun is hot and life
is good, now Lisa is OK.. We rang again and she is definitely
chirpier. Got a bit of a headache myself but I know
why! I must have banged it on the empty metaxa bottle
! We decide to have a day on the beach with our books.
5th September Sunday
The thunder has been
rumbling in the distance all morning and it is overcast.
A good day for a bike ride. We couldn’t get far round
the coast because the hilly roads came to dead ends
at little beach bars, which tried unsuccessfully to
entice us in for a beer. We did however decide to sunbathe
on one tiny little beach. Inevitably the storm erupted
and we had to take cover under the hedge, still getting
drenched. It is not the English drenching though more
like a warm eco shower. The freshness of the air after
the storm is welcome. We return to the shade of the
trees in the car park, opposite the police station,
where we have free-camped the last few days.
6th September Monday
Left Sivota and journeyed
to Igoumenitsa, the ferry port for Italian destinations,
disappointed that you cannot at present get to Dubrovnik
or Split in Croatia without going to Italy first, which
is expensive. We carried on through mountains to Ionnina,
where we eventually found a gas depot and got our empty
bottles refilled. We also bought a big tub of excellent
fresh olives and a string of garlic from the roadside.
We continued on through more mountain passes, although
a main road, heading for Meteora. At a particularly
acute bend we stopped and waited for several lorries
to come round. We set off again when two cars and a
small lorry were in view, giving us plenty of space
to pass safely. Just after we set off a large French
artic came hurtling into view, not slowing at all and
despite us having already come round the bend hit the
rear corner of our truck with its trailer which was
well over the white line. After the initial shock and
feeling violated by the assault on our beloved vehicle,
the paperwork was completed and we realised the damage
was not too extensive and could wait to our return to
UK before repairing it. Richard’s improving French helped
but we could not get the other driver to admit responsibility.
The digital camera photos will help. Flat, we carry
on towards Meteora and stop overnight in a roadside
7th September Tuesday
We pull into a lovely
shady, peaceful campsite near Meteora and spend the
day doing chores, cleaning, washing etc. In the afternoon
Richard sets off on foot and recces the fabulous monasteries
perched on top of the incredible sandstone peaks of
Meteora, which look like some sculptors contribution
o the Greek landscape. The conclusion of the recce is
that it is too far to walk and that H will not be let
in to any monastery if she shows any flesh whatsoever.
No self-control these Monks.
8th September Wednesday
We set off on bikes,
6 miles uphill to the Metamorphosis monastery right
at the top. The ride was hard especially as our bikes
are knackered after overuse by Romanian kids. Heather’s
Moroccan back wheel is buckled. We have decided that
we will get them fixed up in Romania on our way back.
The hills are steady and unrelenting but we have done
worse in Spain and the French midi Pyreneese. The monasteries,
built in the 13th century onwards literally sit on the
tops of columns of sandstone. There use to be over 20
but now there are only six in a fit state, the rest
in ruins. Until early this century the only way up was
by rickety rope ladders or steps built on scaffolding.
Sounds pretty scary to me. Modern Greek scaffolding
isn’t very clever. They have been the bastion of the
defence of Greek Orthodoxy, it appears, forever. Inside,
the chapel walls are illustrated with hundreds of gruesome
ways of being martyred for your faith. None of which
are pleasant. Stoning, beheading, burnt alive, cooked
in boiling oil, flayed, bricked up, drowned, pressed
with weights, crucifixion, crucifixion upside down etc.
etc. I have visions of a trainee painter approaching
the abbot , “ I have thought of another one” “Good boy,
paint it in that space over there !”. When we got there,
despite signs saying women must be covered, beshorted
and tee-shirted women are heading off towards the monastery.
Brazen hussies! The crafty monks to spare their blushes
and maximise their income provide elasticated skirts
and smocks for the women and stripey convict like pantaloons
for the men. This visit has been a highlight of our
tour, if you come to Greece, it is an imperative detour.
The return to the campsite was rapid and easy, all downhill.