Dave the motorhome is is being pounded by the rain in a big thunderstorm in a motorhome parking in Vergina (N40.48509 E22.31983), Central Macedonia, which is surprisingly (to me anyway) still in Greece! Those of you with more geographical knowledge of Europe than me (which is probably pretty much everyone reading this) will know that we’re in the opposite direction to Albania. Confession time: We’ve studied our map, done some guestimating as to how long it will take us to cross Europe and have decided not to go. It was a really tough call, but we if we’re going to go there we don’t want it to be a quick flit around its border – we’d like to see it properly and take our time. Thanks to everyone who voted in our pole, but it just ain’t gonna happen this time. We’ve chalked it onto the ‘places to visit another time’ list (along with Turkey which is handily in the same bit of Europe) and have to move on – sorry!
Last night was, hmm now let’s think of an appropriate adjective, ‘interesting’. We had our BBQ chicken and chips with a greek salad in Pension Arsenis and when we went to pay the lady running the place (who didn’t speak any English) waved at us to come back later when her son Costas was back.
Jay took Charlie for a walk, during which pampered pooch found himself a tortoise. They are wild over here and we often see them crossing the road, we’ve even seen a dog carrying one in its mouth. Maybe tortoises emit a scent that drives dogs wild, but Charlie certainly now wants one for Christmas, having unsuccessfully attempting to get into this one. Today’s Top Tip 1 – If your pooch goes for a tortoise and you pick the tortoise up to move it out of harm’s way, hold it at arm’s length as they pee themselves – luckily Jay had already been warned!
Back at Dave Charlie was put on his lead after several escape attempts to try and find his tortoise. As Jay tucked into one of the tasty beers Jurgen had given him, Costas rode up on his moped (which he uses to get around everywhere, even just the few short metres from the hotel to our van) and said we should come to the hotel terrace at 9pm for a drink as we are his very special friends. We’d had a bit of warning about Costas from Adam and Sophie at Europebycamper.com and how he likes to stroke ladies’ hair. Fully prepared and because we needed to pay, we wandered over to the terrace to find it empty. After a while Costas arrived and showed us around the side of it which overlooks the olive trees, ‘more romantic, better place for you my special friends’ he told us.
I declined the offer of Ouzo as I can’t stand the stuff, and even though Jay offered to drink my share Costas decided that we should all have some retsina wine instead (aged in pine barrels it is somewhat of an acquired taste, which I have yet to acquire but it’s more palatable than ouzo). The next half an hour was very awkwardly spent with Costas trying to hold both of our hands in his massive bear-like paws – he managed to hold them both in one hand at one point – or stroking Jay’s arm (fortunately he seemed to prefer Jay to me!) as we small talked and tried to get our limbs back and think of a way to get back to Dave. We were invited back to visit him in November for the olive harvest, and to join him for a coffee in the morning at 8am – Jay managed to skilfully decline both offers without offending and after too many hugs we escaped. Back in Dave we wondered if maybe we were being too British, maybe Costas is just a very, very lonely man (he lives in the hotel with his mother) or maybe it was his way of picking up people. Today’s Top Tip 2 – If you do stop at Pension Arsenis, don’t accept the offer of Ouzo on the terrace or be very prepared if you do!
This morning we were up and gone by 9am, an unusually early start for us! We drove the short few kilometres up to the road overlooking Meteora and worked our way along the viewpoints overlooking the monasteries as the sun shone on them in the morning. Standing on a huge rock with this amazing vista it reminded us of why we are doing this (advanced apologies for the many, many photos below!).
We knew we had a long drive ahead of us today, so we said goodbye to the views and got back on the main road north. A quick stop off at Lidl for a stock up as we were dangerously low on milk (if you know me you’ll know that there has to be milk in the house or there is trouble) produced a very happy Jay as it was Chinese week. Dave’s cupboards now rattle with the sound of jars of sweet and sour sauce and curry – no idea why the curry sauce was part of Chinese week though!
After the two hefty tolls we experienced on the Peloponnese and the bridge to get off it we decided to avoid the toll road motorway, and spent the next five hours wiggling around either side of it, crossing under it several times and rising high above it on a mountain. As Jay grimaced in pain I kept reminding him that it was free.
As we passed into Western Macedonia we were only slightly worried by the signs at the side of the road telling us to beware of bears, what was more concerning to me was that we were still in Greece. I thought Macedonia was a whole other country, but there had been no borders. It turns out that FYR Macedonia is a different country (or to give it its full title The Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia) but Macedonia is one of the regions of Greece. This is why FYR Macedonia has to have the FYR in front of its name, to avoid confusion! It confuses the hell out of me.
A quick stop by the roadside enabled us to scoff some crisps for lunch – we both agreed it was too darn hot to eat to eat anything more – before we passed through the little village of Zoodohos Pigi (great name). The locals stared as we drove through, we stared back at the closed up souvenir huts and vacant shops – the result of the super quick motorway opening.
As we made our way down off the mountain we had climbed (poor Dave) we crossed over into Central Macedonia – fortunately no bear signs yet! We drove into the town of Veria and had to get out the laptop to connect to the internet to find our way out – seems that the people who put up road signs assume you know the way once in a large town. With our phone connected to the internet via the laptop (I’m really looking forward to getting Satnav working again when we get to Bulgaria) we navigated out of the labyrinth of streets using google maps.
Arriving at the nearby village of Vergina we followed the signs around the town to find the motorhome parking where we were greeted by Thomas who showed us where everything was and explained what local attractions were open today (that’ll be none as it’s Monday – but we already knew that). The town is the home to some Royal tombs, which we’ll visit tomorrow. We got out camping chairs out and relaxed in the shade as we were both sweating.
Parked next to Dave was the same motorhome that we were parked next to last night. The German couple had kindly explained to us what some of the things mean in the Womo book that we use (it’s all in German but we’ve managed so far using photos and maps). They said how they wanted to visit here but there were no details of where to stay in the book, so when we decided it looked like a good next stop for us too I found the details of this parking on the internet and passed them on. The couple arrived back from a walk around the town not long after we had got here, they had left Meteora at 1.30pm and had taken the motorway. It took them half as long as it took us, and the total cost in those expensive tolls? €6! Today’s Top Tip 3 – Take the motorway!
Tonight Jay has cooked us up a Lidl’s curry, it’s the first curry we have had in months and was a real taste of home. I’m going to start writing down all the lovely foods we’ve discovered on our tour so I can try to make them when we get home and hopefully remind us of the places we’re visiting.