Sunday, November 22, 2009

Arrivederci Italy

By Claire
According to Rick Steves, driving in Greece is not for the faint of heart: The speed limit can be hard to ascertain on backcountry roads. Making matters even more confusing, half of all Greek drivers seem to go double the speed limit, while the others go half the limit. As Greeks aren’t shy about passing, cars stay in their lanes like rocks in an avalanche.

Passing on a curve. I love the dog kennel on the back of this car.

And so, we have arrived in Greece. But let me back up just a bit. Isn’t it great when you can laugh about things after the fact? We left Sicily heading towards Brindisi, the port town where we were to catch our ferry to Igoumenitsa, Greece. It is about a 6 hour drive which means 8-9 hours for Homer. Along the way, we stopped for lunch near another camper and started chatting with them. They are from Austria and Chuck had even met her doing dishes at one or two campsites back. They told us about a campsite that sounded good and I was all for stopping and getting a good night’s sleep rather than pushing through. Chuck came around pretty quickly. That was our first mistake. We set up Susanna, now referred to as “Susanna the Bitch”, and merrily went on our way to find Camping Thurium, €11.50,located just inside the arch of the boot of Italy. Her first announcement of “you have reached your destination” was just wrong. We decided to continue on with the hope that the GPS coordinates were off by a couple of kilometers. Nothing turned up so I re-programmed her and the next thing we knew, we were driving up a narrow road to the top of a mountain into a tiny hill town. When we got to the top and it was quite clear that we had NOT reached our destination, I jumped out and asked a man if he spoke English. Of course he didn’t. Nor did his friends. They looked at Homer in fascinated horror. When I said “camping?” they all became agitated and began waving their arms. By now, I just wanted to know which road would take us out. We made it but some expletives were used in the process. Chuck will have to teach me those words in a calmer situation.

We took off down the road, dreading the idea of having to free camp somewhere when Chuck suddenly said “isn’t that the campground?” There was a large sign with an arrow pointing down a road. This was many, many kilometers from where dear “Susanna The Bitch” had told us to go. Never mind, we were ecstatic. We found our way, had a long discussion at reception (these things do take time) then wriggled our way between the millions of trees to a spot that seemed right. We were the only ones there until we ran into our German friends from Camping Jonio and Camping Rais Gerbi. Small world! I danced with that man!

Up early for our departure at a promised 7:30, we found out that the gates would not be opened until 8:30. Ah, communication. But, we were on the road again and on our way to Brindisi after sleeping for about 10 hours. I swear, when it gets dark so early, we are like hibernating bears.

We made it to the port, slightly panicked at how to manage getting tickets and figuring out where to go. It was all so easy. I saw a sign out front of a ticket sales office saying IGOUMENITSA and we parked and went in. We asked about tickets and the guy looked at the 11:20 am clock and said, yes, there was a ferry leaving at 11:30. Naturally, we jumped at it and wanted him to hurry up! We grabbed our vouchers (we thought they were tickets, but I’ll come to that in a minute) and rushed to Homer. At the last second, I shouted to a guy who had been there and helped with the language problems asking where we needed to go (it was now 11:25). He offered to lead us there and off we went. We would NEVER have found the embarkation on our own. Believe me. He happily left us at an official looking place but the guy there shouted at us that we needed to go somewhere else. Luckily he threw out a name that escapes me at the moment, and off we went in a cloud of diesel fumes to the tune of The Lone Ranger. We were really down to the wire now and this was a ferry that only runs twice a day. So, racing along hysterically, trying to read multiple signs when your brain can only take in so much information, we managed to roar up to a likely looking barrier with an official within. He took his time coming out (it was now 11:30) and shouted at us that we needed to get the tickets from the ticket office while pointing back about 50 meters. Apparently we only had vouchers. So, squealing tires, Chuck peeled out doing one of his finer 6 or 7 point U-turns and I jumped out, raced up and stuffed the voucher under the little window. The guy inside could NOT have cared less. He was joking with his friends, talking on his cell phone and eating a banana. He seemed mildly irritated that I was interrupting him, printed out the tickets, slowly stapled them together and shoved them through the opening (it was now 11:33). We screamed over to the ferry where we saw numerous vehicles all lined up to get on the ferry. Ahhhhh, we breathed a sign of relief. “Just made it!” We started stuffing things into our new backpack—Kindles, water, cookies, Kleenex—when I realized the Bulgarians in front of us were having a leisurely lunch off the back of their car. So, we yanked some food out and started wolfing down some cheese and crackers. We could barely swallow we were in such a hurry (it was now 11:36). And then, there we sat for another hour until slowly, slowly, the trucks and then cars were loaded on. I won’t even go into the shouting and screaming of directions by the officials that went on in that ordeal.

We stumbled around looking for a way out of the diesel-fume infused area, finally managing to make it up to the passenger area. We expected to find something like airline or bus seats but the only seating available was in the café, the bar or in a side room where we snagged two club chairs, worn beyond belief but marginally comfortable. We began to get excited about finally heading to Greece and then to Turkey. And then we waited. And waited. And waited. I went up to the Purser and asked what time we were leaving. He said it was up to the Coast Guard. I asked when that would happen. He said “Only God Knows.” At 3:05 pm we finally pulled out with no fanfare. Thirteen and a half hours after arriving at the ferry we arrived in Greece. We managed to get off the damn thing without any drama and drove over to where some trucks were parked on the dock, pulled the shades and got into bed. The roar of diesel trucks does not lull you to sleep but somehow we managed to get about 4 hours.

Homer at the port

So we are now in Greece, the sun is shining and we decided that with a week to kill before we have to be out of the EU and into Turkey, we might as well take a side trip to Delphi. I knew of a campground there that is open year round and the idea of wild camping all the way across Greece just didn't appeal. Greece is as beautiful as I remember.

Greek Village on the water

Café on the road. Chuck really needed a Greek coffee. He was given a frothy, iced coffee. Delicious!

I never got around to mentioning all the unfinished houses in Italy. Apparently, they build as much as they can afford, with the hope or plan of continuing at some future date. They leave the rebar in place so they'll be ready to add the second or third story. We're seeing this same phenomenon in Greece.

Unfinished house

All was going so well using a map rather than Susanna, who has been banished to the hiding place in Homer. Not because she was bad, although she was very bad, but because she doesn't work in Greece or Turkey—the visa requirements were just too difficult. Eek! We studied the map, wrote down the names of towns along the way and headed to Delphi. However, when we approached a crucial point we should have turned left rather than going straight, and found ourselves on the bridge to Patras. Fortunately, they were very nice at the toll booth about getting us off and back to where we wanted to be. It took some doing, and some paperwork but they pulled it off. We were so glad it was a Sunday with little traffic.

Rio-Antirrio suspension bridge, €12 toll

One problem we have discovered is finding LPG (propane) at the fuel stations. Most don't seem to have it and the one place we asked said no. We've seen a Greek word with a price of .59 which is what it was in Italy; so we are hopeful. We will try again today. We need this for our stove and our heater....

We did make it to Camping Chrissa, €20, and we are enjoying the best FREE WiFi of the entire trip. It's just like home. Fast, responsive and 24/7. Amazing! We are off to see Delphi.

It is good to be out on the open road, and going one knows not where. Going through meadow and village, one knows not whither nor why. ~ John Masefield


Paul King said...

Great story. I felt like I was on that whirlwind with you. Glad it worked out.
When I was I in Ireland years ago, I caught a ride to Cork with guy I'd met the day before.
I accidently left my super cool all-purpose outerwear coat thing in his car and he headed for the docks to ferry back to France.
Determined to get my coat, I hailed a cab and we flew toward the coast.
Arriving at the ferry area, the scene was chaotic and congested. Hundreds of cars.
I asked the cabbie to wait, got out and somehow, by luck in the jumble, instantly noticed the cue for my guy's destination.
I walked about ten yards and -amazed- spotted the car I sought!
Got my coat, got back to the cab and have been wondering ever since how the hell that was so easy.

Have some moussaka for me!


Kim said...

Claire and Chuck,

I continue to enjoy the tales and travails of your travel adventure. I am learning a lot about travel, but I also find myself wanting to pull out my camera every time I go to a restaurant! Have a great Thanksgiving!