This is a very self indulgent account of Richard and Heather Knowles travels as they wander through Europe in search of a different way of life.
This is a very self indulgent account of Richard and Heather Knowles travels as they wander through Europe in search of a different way of life.
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Romania Onwards

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 water.

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 un-screened programme.

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 in detail.

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 6.

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 was appreciated.

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 set again.

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 Cernavoda.

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 you.

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 from behind.

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 truth.

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 car park.

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 singing. Amazing.

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 supermarket stuff.

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 blank looks.

3rd August Tuesday

Protracted negotiations 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 Halkidiki.

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 11th August

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 weeks.

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 car-park.

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.

  1. They talk about the past rather than the future.
  2. They consider themselves (unfounded) the best lovers in the world.
  3. They feel they have many enemies.
  4. They think that a good climate and its natural beauty are all that is required for Greece to be paradise on earth.
  5. They imitate rather than originate.
  6. They are windbags, impatient and disorganised.
  7. They lack self discipline.
  8. They send more than they earn.
  9. They eat too much, take little exercise and hence are most obese Europeans.
  10. They are humorous, hospitable and fun loving.
  11. They get things done and fulfill obligations but normally at the last minute.
  12. They can surprise people with their performance levels (ie European Cup).
  13. 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 modern technology.

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 to overcome.

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 27 degrees.

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 Itea.

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 her success.

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 Glaswegian.

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 their exploits.

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 lay by.

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.


Stay Tuned For More To Come....

Cheers, Richard & Heather 

[Loire/Ile De Re] [Dordogne and Gorges] [Summer Alps] [Italy] [Slovenia] [Croatia] [On The Road To Morrocco] [Monte Carlo or Bust] [Spain, Benidorm and Gibraltar] [Rabat And All That] [El Jadida, Ounara, Essouria] [More meanderings & out of Africa] [Snowmads] [Snowmads 2] [Richard -  The BIG 50 !!!] [Eastern Europe] [Eastern Europe (cont)]


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