Dave the motorhome is in Greece! For our first night’s acclimatisation to the warmth, we’ve nipped south from the new port of Patras for 40 minutes into a car park by the sea (complete with no camping sign and four other motorhomes, N38.15615 E21.36778). All along the sea-bound horizon are the outlines of mountainous Greek islands and mainland. The sun’s bouncing from the sea and making it hard to see the screen and type this out, it’s marvellous.
The ferry journey from Italy last night was as close to perfect as it gets. We ventured from our little corner of the open car deck to wave goodbye to Italy from the passenger decks above us, encountering the only slight hiccup, our magnetic cards weren’t encoded to allow us back in. A company-issued red-tunic sporting fellow called Christopherosus (we think) at reception rather formally but energetically ensured this was quickly sorted, accompanying us back to the car deck to test the cards. When he heard we had a dog with us, he explained there is a sand-filled tray area on our deck for him to do his business. We didn’t explain that while our dog has some cat-like tendencies (licking his paws clean, being afraid of cats), using a litter tray wasn’t one of them.
Parked in front of us on the deck were Barry, Frances and their two children, also camping on board in their caravan. After they’d eaten upstairs, Ju invited them round for a drink, so we got to quiz them about their 20 years of experience living in Greece (they run www.kefalonianhomes.com). Among their anecdotes were stories of folks standing counting wads of notes in the street outside cash machines (they consider the country exceptionally safe), people who used to run their own little shops recently having to turn back to agriculture or working in a supermarket (yep, the recession’s biting hard) and an insight into the Greek mindset. Barry told me there is a wee Greek story which goes something like this: a Greek man is jealous of his neighbour’s prize goat. One day a saint appears and offers the man to fulfil a wish. The man, gleeful, asks that his neighbour’s goat die. It seems Greek folks would rather see their neighbours fail than they themselves be successful.
Barry and family were on their way back home to Greece, they’ve decided to split their time between the two countries for the time being, home-schooling the kids. They take 2 or 3 weeks to make the journey each way, so get to see a huge chunk of Europe while they’re ‘commuting’. It was fascinating to chat with them, and we now know how to pronounce ‘thankyou’ in Greek!
Camping on Board worked perfectly for us. It meant we could sleep in our own bed, didn’t have to put Charlie in kennels or pay €50 for him to go in a cabin, we could eat our own grub (if not cook, as using gas isn’t allowed and we have no electric hotplate) and once the morning came we could look out of the window at an incredible sea-scape. Despite being woken at 5am by the ship docking at Igoumenitsa and almost all the lorries piling off, and a patch of rolling sea which had Dave’s suspension creaking like a sea organ, come 8am we were both well rested. To top it off, we indulged in a long old hot power shower apiece and our leisure battery is charged to the max from the on-board power. Obviously, we’d recommend Camping on Board to anyone from the experience we had – it’s available on Italy-Greece routes from 1 April to 31 October.
With an almost empty deck, Charlie got to play ball, being whistled over and stroked by a couple of the sailors. One of the few remaining vehicles was a Greek-registered van, it’s back doors were left open during the voyage and half the contents of boxes of small brown, quietly chattering birds were stacked up along the wall. They’d each got water available and looked in good health, to me at least. The deck smelled of bird, even though it was open to the fresh sea air.
Come 1pm (bang on time), the ferry docked, we unhooked ourselves from the power and drove off. No formalities, straight out from the new Patras port and into a huge expanse of Greek concrete, fortunately with fellow travellers to follow out the dock.
Prior to this we’d discovered while trying to work out which floating island was which that our European TomTom maps don’t include Greece. Ju, the navigator, is thus reduced back to the good old paper map, 1:700,000 and we soon sussed about 80% of the places on the signs aren’t on the map. Barry had suggested that as long as we head right, not towards Athens, we’d be good to go. After a wander along the coastal road eye-balling and smiling at one-handed on-the-phone helmet-less moped riders and the cost of diesel (€1:30 a litre at the cheapest place) we found the national road and cruised off. When I say ‘cruised off’ it was a bit more white knuckled-off, as the single carriageway route had been extended into a four-lane road by everyone using the hard shoulder. When in Rome; we cruised the hard shoulder too, the experience of driving in Tunisia and Italy has prepared us reasonably well, we hope.
Patras is at the north end of the Peloponnese, a peninsula which has been effectively an island since 1893 when the Corinth Canal chopped the land mass from the rest of mainland Greece, but no-one treats it as one. Although we’ve both been to the Greek Islands on package tours, this is our first time as independent tourists, and our first time on the mainland. What do we think of it so far? Smashing. Ju navigated us here past a moped-riding shepherd, a wayward tortoise in the road, a few dead dogs, a lego-load of low quality port town development and another parking spot up the coast. We initially thought we were in the right place until we climbed a high dune at one end of the beach to spot all the camper-vanners here, took a walk to reccy this spot, and shifted over for some company. The beach here isn’t snorkelable, but is quite beautiful and another wonder that we can stay here and enjoy it for free.
The map’s out now for some planning, but first time for another dog walk on the beach as the sun sets behind an unknown Greek hill in the distant sea (possibly Kefalonia).