Our aim for the end of this week was to be in Alexandroupoli which meant a fairly hefty 500 miles of driving coming. We decided against a sight-seeing route and went for the motorway, it must have been our two days for being lucky – instead of being charged Class 4 due to our height each of the four manual toll booths gave us the Class 1 car rate – result as our total tolls for the completed journey were €8.20. We don’t know why, we just smiled and handed over our cash.
As we headed North from Kastraki the countryside changed so much that it began to resemble North Wales more than what we have become used to as being Greece. Plenty of rolling hills with conifers and farmland in place of olives and citrus groves, the only exception was the almond tree orchards. A very quiet and pleasant drive with the exception of a motorway closure near Kavala, no diversions, no signs just a big blockade across the road. We went straight to Plan B, follow the traffic into town and hope they are all looking for the diversion. All seemed good until we arrived on Kavala docks and vehicles started parking up on the quay! Luckily we spotted a lorry heading up a hill from the docks and decided to follow him, good plan as he took us back to the next open junction on the motorway – more luck than judgement as usual.
For me the best bit about the motorway trip (of course except the cheap as chips tolls) was the road signs, not sure why but seeing a sign for Bulgaria and Turkey was a bit of a special moment for us, made us realise how far we have travelled. And let’s be honest, a sign with a mummy and baby bear would be just amazing no matter where in the world it was. I never knew we had wild bears in Europe, a bit stunned to find they reckon upwards of 150 pairs are roaming free. For about 40 miles there were massive fences along the motorway, not sure if that is to keep the said bears off the motorway but couldn’t see any other reason.
We broke the journey with a stopover at Zampetas Camperstop at Thessaloniki, its a caravan and motorhome repair shop that has a free camperstop area. It was over 35 km off the motorway, albeit down another motorway, and smack bang at the end of the of the airport runway. They had a quick look at our ‘dint’ that was once a back bumper panel and said they couldn’t do anything in just 24 hours so we will continue with the gaffer tape look. We asked if ok to stay, they could not have been more welcoming, parked us up and settled us in for the night.
Closer to home than we thought at Zampetas Camperstop
After a second long day on the road to Alexandroupoli when we arrived we went mad, ignored the budget and ate out in the campsite restaurant. The menu was full of different choices but the owner kept pointing us towards pork dishes. I tried for a moussaka and then Iain told him twice that he really wanted beef, owner just kept repeating ‘you want pork!, its winter so you chose pork’ It was just as easy to agree that we did want pork, of course we did how had we not realised. You cannot beat a bit of gyro and chips and for the two of us with drinks and bread €14 (£10) we were happy enough
We are now as far East as we can go in Greece, it’s very out on a limb with not much of the rest of Greece close by. Turkey is 40 km away and this may be why the town has a massive army and police presence, very much a Garrison town. Looking at the history of the town its been owned or occupied by pretty much everyone in the region at some time, the Russians, Turks, Bulgarians and Germans have all staked claims at different times. There is a very calm and unhurried feeling here, the pavement cafes are heaving, standing room only in most of them, especially the ones that seem to be for those who want to look and be looked at. Going our for coffee in Greece seems to be the corner-stone of Greek life and they certainly do it with style.
If you cant park in the space you want then pop it half on the pavement!
Surprisingly for us we have made two forays into town and we actually quite like it. Big wide streets, good shops and prices that seem lower than the rest of Greece, a very laid-back vibe that we maybe didn’t expect in one of the bigger towns in the country. The promenade is one that will be lovely when its finished, looks as if it has been a work in progress for some years. The landmark lighthouse is based squarely in the middle of the promenade but other than that there doesn’t appear to be too much in the way of tourist attractions other than the beach, suits us fine. In the park the main pastime was playing cards at an upturned cardboard box, at least ten card schools taking place and whilst we couldn’t see money changing hands it looked fairly intense if it was for match sticks.
Alexandroupoli’s iconic lighthouse
The time came Friday for the well overdue (5 months) haircut. We went into a rather snazzy hairdressers, I mimed ‘haircut’ and stylist nodded. Iain was only intending waiting for me but in the blink of an eye the male stylist had him in a chair where we was styled and blow dried despite his protestations, he is just about recovering from the whole episode :). If you look around in Greece the women do big hair, seriously big hair, think Mari Wilson and then double that thought. They were coming into the shop looking pretty normal and leaving with hair do’s that they struggled to get back out through the door, warning signals? When it was time for my cut the stylist roped in a customer who could speak a few words of English, between the three of us I thought we agreed on a trim. Not a hope in hell, my hair is now four inches shorter and was back-combed, with half a can of hairspray laminated in, to a height and width that would prevent me accessing many a low bridge restriction.
Tomorrow we should cross the border into Bulgaria. We are fairly well prepared in that we have some campsite details and a reasonably vague idea of where we want to go, even emailed the first campsite we planned to use to check they are open. We received a response that no they are closed 😦 but they live 15 minutes from the campsite so come and camp on their driveway for a few days, or even use the spare room in their house :). Bulgaria is already sounding like the kind of country we are going to like. We have loved Greece more than we ever imagined but Bulgaria and Romania are beckoning and we are both very much looking forward to countries we have never visited before.
Our route up, down, around and across Greece
The ‘should’ above comes about because we have a niggly little problem which may delay our departure – the van wont start! We tried to pop out this morning to visit the Turkish border and the Elvros Delta park, the van battery is dead as the proverbial Dodo. Left it on the in-van dual charger all day and still not a hope of starting. It’s not worth calling out the breakdown on a Sunday so we will give them a call tomorrow as see what they suggest (we know its likely to be a new battery!). So we may be in Bulgaria tomorrow but then again – who knows! On the positive side thank the Lord we didn’t pop into Turkey as I wanted to – we don’t have breakdown cover there, phew!