καλημέρα = kali̱méra = Good day (it’s a start)

Greece so far has been a revelation. Simple things such as Corfu being pretty much next-door to Albania and opposite to Italy, when we thought all the islands were down by Crete, who would have thought it? Just confirms our total ignorance of the geography of the country. I expected all the housing to be whitewashed villas with blue roofs, a bit Mama Mia really but we haven’t seen sight nor sound of Meryl Streep and now find that we would need to visit Rhodes or the other Cycklades Islands for that type of architecture. Most shocking of all – not sniff of any houmous, we have tried several shops and a couple of supermarkets and not a hint of it anywhere – the search will continue.

The weather too has been a bit surprising – for the first few days it has to be said it was cold, not only that it was overcast too, but low and behold the sunshine moved in on New Years Day, we were out with the awning and sun chairs and sat in the sun by mid morning. Since then the sun has made a longer appearance each day and temperatures have climbed slowly. We are liking here that the Greeks do not go for that pretend winter look – all bundled up in boots and big leather coats when its warm enough to sit on the beach, there were people without coats on in town yesterday and they were not tourists!

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 New Years Eve – somewhat chilly, refuse to wear a coat but the hat was needed

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Normal sunshine service resumed on New Years Day

It is certainly significantly quieter here than we have experienced in Spain or Portugal at the same time of year. Our campsite here, Ionion Beach, has pitches for upwards of 200 motorhomes, this week there have been between seven and ten most days, several Bulgarians, a couple of French and a few British coming and going. Everything is very, very laid back at the campsite, you just come in park up and pay when you want to leave. They don’t check you in as such, no passports or details are needed they just smile and wave a lot and leave you to enjoy it. Most motorhomes are taking advantage of the pitches right on the edge of the beach, premium pitches in high season but now just €15 per night (which is cheaper than with an ACSI discount?)

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New Years Day walk – first outing for the milk bottles

The village we are staying at is called Glyfa (or Glifa depending on which sign you read on the roads), its beyond small, its minute. There is a very old fashioned shop that is as big as the average living room, four tavernas, a church and many goats dotted around in large gardens and olive groves. We are an hour and a bit South West of Patras and we are looking out over to the island of Zakynthos which is 10 miles across the sea from our pitch. It is a small tourist industry here which appears to rely on the many campsites and a few villas, we have only seen one small hotel on the edge of the village. Walking along the beach from the campsite here there are houses, huts, villas, in fact pretty much every type of dwelling imaginable right on the shoreline for at least a mile or two. Each has its own small piece of beach, the homes vary from beautifully restored large whitewashed villas to smaller fishing cottages, then right down to what can only be described as shanty shacks. Amongst them there are tavernas that look like they are just a 10 ft square in someone’s garden and a few restaurants perched out over the sea.  Not sure this is ever a hub for the mass tourism industry even in high summer, more its a little bit of 1950’s Greece stuck in a bit of a time warp, and it really is all the better for it in our opinion. A few miles up the road is the town of Vartholomio, again not really geared towards tourism but very much open and lively, plenty of shops, bars and cafes.

On New Years Day I walked into the village for some bread, one taverna was open as was the village shop but there were very few people around. The shop sells pretty much most essentials, the elderly gentleman running the shop did not speak any English so it was my three words of Greek greetings and then lots of arm waving to describe bread – its nearly impossible to describe bread with your hands believe me! In the end I tried a bit of French and he smiled and pointed me to an old wooden box which contained what was definitely fresh bread once, but probably a good 24 hours before I was in the shop. I didn’t have the heart not to buy it just because it was a bit stale, I paid my money and the fresh bread we planned to have for lunch was replaced by toast.

Everywhere we go there is a shrine, we are not talking massive here just small box like structure at the side of the road, outside houses etc. some have doors, but are never locked, others are open to the elements. They all contain holy pictures, fresh flowers, small tokens etc but what is amazing is they are not damaged, robbed or daubed with graffiti. At home I cannot believe the beautiful plaques and pictures could be left yet here there seems to be a respect that people use these shrines not only to honour the dead from road accidents but also to give thanks if someone survived an accident. For the first days it was exciting everytime we spotted one, now we realise they are every couple of hundred yards its a bit worrying just how many road accidents there must be.

First impressions of Greece, we are loving it. People are very kind and patient with us and the weather is glorious now (and fingers crossed stays that way for a while). Diesel is very cheap here at €1.11 per litre (87p) which is nearly 30p a litre cheaper than home. Food is cheap too, we did a massive Lidl shop and only stopped buying due to the size of our fridge. We stocked up on essentials and also went mad with treats and  and still only spent a few euro over our normal meager budget. We have used a couple of the local small mini-markets, just as cheap there to be fair, rice and grains are sold by the sack load so we will be sticking to Lidl pre-packed for space reasons.

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We hear that Greece is facing political turmoil over the coming months, with massive 30% unemployment you cannot blame them. Whilst we read before we came about the lack of shops, food etc – its simply not something we are seeing. In the larger villages the grocers are packed full with good fruit and vegetables, there are of course empty shop units, no more than we have at home. There are beggars in the towns and villages, mainly women and young teenage children, some sell vegetables or wash windscreens, others just sit on kerb-sides and call for money. I had a few concerns that the Greeks were reported to be anti tourists from Germany and the UK, that has certainly not been the case with anyone we have met. People are very kind, polite and friendly. A young lad in the garage yesterday told us its rare to see British here as its usually German or French that visit, he was pleased to be able to practice his English. The chap that sells tomatoes on the roadside a mile past the campsite waves to us as we pass each way, the Greeks so far have been more welcoming than we could have hoped for.

We had a fright on Friday when we tried four different atm’s to get some cash out – not a one would give me any money. Our thought was there had been a run on the banks as they had a few years ago, at the fifth bank Iain went and tried and got cash no problem, so it looks like it was just my card not being liked – phew!

We have enjoyed our ‘mini break’ holiday here at Glyfa for the last 5 days, so much so we may stay for the next week too. There are some thermal springs, a castle and some Roman baths (in Greece??) we need to explore before we leave and Iain is becoming quite addicted to a couple of hours sunshine each afternoon so its going to prove difficult to drag him off to do some cultural touring. As today was a little overcast we took the opportunity to get out for a bit of a walk, with the intention of heading over to the said Roman baths, we got as far as the next village Arkoudi before we realised we didn’t actually have a map or any firm idea where we were heading. Having walked to the village along the rural road for nearly 5 miles we had seen only three cars, there really is hardly a soul on the roads. The nearest we saw to traffic was the lonely sheep herder moving his flock at break neck speed outside at Arkoudi. We stopped for a picnic on the beach, were stunned to see someone swimming in the sea (its no way warm enough for that malarkey) and found a  new friend in a stray dog who adopted us in the hope of some spare titbits (he was disappointed!). Several miles later we are back at the campsite, the sun it making its way out so that is us finished for for the weekend.

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That old cliche of ‘rush hour’ but its fairly true around here

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Arkoudi – the teeniest of holiay resorts

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Whilst our Greek is progressing painfully slowly we are still trying. Obviously Google Translate is the ‘go to’ for any words we want to learn. I did however come across a website that showed there is room for lots of confusion using literal translations:

Greek Saying “Η ζωή είναι σαν ένα αγγούρι, ο έναs το τρώει και δροσιστείτε, και ο άλλος το τρώει και ζορίζετε.”
Literal English Translation: “Life is like a cucumber, one person eats it and is refreshed, and another person eats it and struggles.”
What the Greeks really mean: “Life is simply what you make of it.”

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Week 9 – Greece, Elis Peloponnese

It all started reasonably well. The ferry was 2 hours late in leaving Ancona but as we were heading for Greece where time matters even less than Italy we weren’t too worried. The crew kindly offered us an electric hook up on the ferry, as we had very little in the fridge we declined. In our experience car decks are always freezing and our fridge stays cold enough for 24 hours, the crossing is only 22 hours so we will be fine. Once on-board we found our free cabin, on a par with Brittany Ferries, and then we went to see the purser for our meal discounts – 30% of all meals for the trip. Anek Lines and Mimoan are all one company, as they cannot offer Camping On-board to motorhomes in winter, and on a few of their ferries where there isn’t an open deck, they give a free cabin and the meal offer. Pretty amazing deal as would say that 50% of the passengers were sleeping in chairs as the cabins were coming in at nearly €200 for the night.

We were due to dock at the first port of call, Igoumenitsa, around 7am the next morning, then after unloading and re-loading a further 5 hours onto Patras so arrival eta was 3pm Sunday. We woke up around 7am to tannoy announcements for all passengers to stay seated, and a garbled message about the North Atlantic. To be honest we thought they were talking about the storm so had a lie in and wandered down for breakfast late morning. When we did we found it was  the Norman Atlantic, an Anek Ferry and it was on fire, our ship has turned back as it neared port to assist and we were the closest vessel, with ships joining the circling of the stricken ferry continuously.

Its very hard to describe watching a burning ship with smoke billowing, flames leaping out from the decks, explosions every few minutes and seeing at least 60-70 people stood on the deck waiting for rescue. The passengers and crew on the ship needed winching to safety by helicopters, incredibly the whole operation to airlift them all lasted 28 hours. Most people will have seen or read news reports of the events, so its not something I feel it’s appropriate to write too much about in a blog, suffice to say its something we will always remember and will count our blessings we happened to be on the right ferry at the right time and not the other way around.

In the middle of this Iain needed to be taken down to the car decks to get some insulin and medications from the van, as we were going to be on-board for three days rather than one. At which point he finds that this ship is not freezing on the car decks, its roasting as there is a massive generator running down there. Our fridge is turning intoa cooker and a  12 months supply of insulin is about to go off. We managed to save it by bringing it upstairs where the bar staff kept it in the fridge for us. The rest of the contents of our fridge have been disposed of, however the odour will be staying with us for some days we think. The heat was enough to actually start heating the water in our tanks to a temperature that would be fine for a shower.

We finally left the fire scene late afternoon Monday when all passengers and crew had been rescued. This meant that we would be arriving in Patras around 3am, so our plan was to stay on the dock until day-light as we had no idea on roads, routes etc. When we arrived I asked the Customs officer if we could park up until morning, he said that wouldn’t be possible. I asked where we could stay and he pointed to a carpark outside the fences. I inquired if he thought we would be safe there and he told me “no not at all, beware the Afghans”(I assumed he meant people, not dogs). Patras looks a bit like Calais, fencing everywhere as immigrants try to sneak on boats bound for Italy. The carpark didn’t seem appealing so next question was what he would suggest, I had to laugh at his response “I would drive until out of the city and away from Afghans then rest somewhere safe until daylight”. Thanks for that, we felt so much better, not! We decided to aim for a campsite at Glifa just over an hour and a half away. Out of the docks and just as we should have turned onto the motorway, we realised we had wrong slotted – right into the back streets of Patras. It is probably as safe as houses, but if you have never been there before, its 4am, you haven’t slept since the previous morning you have a general apprehension about your first visit to an unknown country then trust me it was a bit scary. All we could do was hold our faith in Sat Nav and 10 minutes later we were back on the main road out of town, both praying for an easy drive with no further drama, which luckily was what we got. We saw nothing of Greece other than very dark roads, no traffic, not even some stray dogs, it all passed by in a blur as were both concentrating on the right turns to make sure we didn’t end up off route again. We finally arrived at the campsite at 5am, parked up outside the gates, switched off the engine and were out like lights within minutes

This morning all is good in our world again, the campsite we are at is the Ionion Beach. Its’s fabulous, our pitch is within 3 ft of the beach, there are only a few motorhomes here but we did meet some Brits this morning who were heading for San Marino and they gave us loads of tips for the best shops and most importantly the nearest Lidl 🙂 We have been to the village shops and caused some chaos with shopping due to our lack of language and my weighing all the fruit and vegetables wrongly. Hieroglyphics are already seeming like the the main focus of our world. We are slightly mollified by there being translations into German on many signs – my German is even worse than my French but it looks like we could be relying on it quite a bit on directions. In terms of shopping its even worse several times when we were out today one of us picked something up and said “has this got sugar in?” or “what type of bread is this?” – we don’t know, you cannot work it out unless you learn the whole new alphabet, so yes we are going to try. As always when in Rome…. pizza is out, chick peas and goat are in, as will be ouzo! On the way back from the village I made Iain stop for our first look at a Greek Orthodox Church, sadly locked up but we made do with peering in the windows, there is going to be visited quite a few churches and castles coming up in the very near future.

As of yet the sun isn’t shinning, it will be soon we have no doubt. Its been an eventful few days, a trip of 22 hours took 58 hours but it really isn’t something we can complain about, as our ferry journey ended at our intended destination. And now we are in Greece we intend to stay for several weeks and hopefully see a lot of the country before we move on in early Spring.

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