On Tour 22 – France to Greece

On Tour 22 – France to Greece

Hello to Everyone,

We left Menton heading for the Italian Riviera. Driving is madness, dodging, buses , trucks, pedestrians, scooters, cars, cyclists and anyone else crazy enough to be on the roads. On this occasion we set the GPS to avoid toll roads, a huge mistake, we got caught in crazy peakhour in a town called Genoa and were held up for a couple of hours.

Next stop Portifino, we kinda lucked this one, not realising that we were in one of the most exclusive parts of the Italian Riviera and it was stunning. We chanced a car park just outside of Portifino and the bus to go into town basically picked us up at our front door. It was easily as good if not better than the French Riviera. We shouted ourselves to dinner in a nearby town, it was ok, with gratuity added and a 3 euro charge just for sitting down.

When we crossed the border from France to Italy the change was instant. We had gone from a clean well kept country to a tip. The place is pretty much a dump. With few towns bothering to manage there rubbish issues. The exceptions being Portifino and Sorrento. We are also finding the Italians abrupt and rude and crazy on the roads. If it wasn’t for the Romans and some nice coastline, there would be no reason to come to Italy. The beaches are just awful.

We are missing the great foods and wines in France as well, supermarket shopping has gone from a pleasure to a nightmare, with little or no choice except pasta and pizza and thats getting pretty boring.

From Portifino we headed to a group of fishing villages near Le Spezia. Very quaint and expensive, with spectacular cliffs and scenery, very, winding, narrow roads and crap beaches covered in litter. We paid 10 Euros for the pleasure of staying in carpark next to the busiest road in a town called Levanto. Onto Florence, a great compact city.

We intended a quick stop in Pisa to see the leaning tower, not realising that we were on the same road as the Giro d’Itilia, the Itialian equivalent of the Tour De France. Trying to get a wireless signal we pulled into a Mac Chuck. Someone had told us that all Maccas have wireless only to find it closed, when we tried to leave and head towards Pisa would were told we couldn’t as the road in the direction we were going was now closed and we had to head back the way we had come.

So off we went about 3 mins down the road, pulling into a service station to get petrol, we spoke to another cop and he said it was an easy detour and we had plenty of time. By the time we were ready to leave the road was closed in both directions and would be for a least 2 hours, so much for a early start and a quick trip to Pisa on the way to Florence.

After the cop got quite angry with David, I’m sure he thought we were going to join the tour and a lot of arguing and gesticulating between the cops and the locals a gentlemen with very good English suggested we gutter jump and drive through a paddock out the back of the servo and we would find our way to Pisa. Fortunately he knew what he was talking about and we made it to Pisa in one piece. We got to see the famous tower (amongst the litter).

Finally onto Florence. We camped, two nights in a place, south of Florence in the Tuscan hills, it was lovely with a great pool to soak up the Tuscan sun and only about a 45 min bus ride to the center of Florence. We had a great time, queuing 2 1/2 hours to see Michael Angelo’s David and lashing out on some leather jackets and wandering around town.

From Florence to Rome. Again to a campground. Rome was fascinating, practically the ongoing archeological dig site in itself. It was also hot. We stayed in a campground about an hour via public transport to the  heart of Rome, alongside Lake Bracciano  which supplies the drinking water to Rome.

The ride in and out of Rome was quite pleasant with a nice little bar at the lake end. It was also reasonably priced at 14 euro a night with power. The first morning at the campground we were exceptionally proud of our effort to be at the bus stop by 8.20am, only to watch the bus drive by, we were standing in the wrong place and the next bus wasn’t due for over an hour.

Fortunately a dutch couple noticed us and offered us a lift to the train station. We rode on the train with them and they were quite lovely, but we became worried we the told us they normally stay in nudist camps and the asked if we wanted to go for a drive with the the following day. We declined, they didn’t actually look that great with clothes on!

We spent the first morning finding our way to the Romanian Embassy to try to get visas organised. This was our third trip to a embassy, twice in Paris. We arrived to find out that we were in the wrong place and needed to head for the consulate on the other side of Rome, we were told not to bother as it closes at 1.00 pm, at this stage it was around midday.

We spent the afternoon site seeing, meeting an Irish couple, who we toured Vatican City with. The following day, we made the early bus and had effectively figured out the Rome public transport and had efficiently made it to the consulate by 10.00 am to be told to come back the following day between 3 and 4. By this stage we were about ready to change our plans and just give Romania a miss, but decided to give it one more go.

Again we spent the afternoon seeing more of Rome and sidestepping all the rubbish. The Trevi Fountain was a definite highlight. We met some fellow Australians from Kalgooli amongst the throngs, who were away for a couple of weeks.

Third day more site seeing in Rome and then back for the fifth time to the Romanian Consulate, we actually got a showing, to find out we need health insurance, so we photocopied our Medicare cards. We are not sure yet if we have a Visa, but I guess we will find out when we try to pick it up in Thessalonika. We throughly enjoyed Rome, despite the Italians and were happy with our choice of camp grounds.

It had a neat little restaurant on the waters edge where we shouted ourselves to a meal of, yep pizza and pasta beer and chilled red wine for less then 20 euros. It also had clean bathrooms and continuos hot water.

On the way from Rome to Sorrento we managed to take the wrong turn in Naples and go down a one way street the wrong way. This didn’t seem to bother anyone any where near as much as if you were slow starting of at the traffic lights. We had to back out of that one as the street was not quite wide enough to turn around in.

Naples was definitely a scary place to drive. When we got to Sorrento we spent some time driving around looking for camping ground we finally settled for the one we looked at first even though at the time we didn’t think it was very good it got the money as it was only a short walk into Sorrento.

We chanced a meeting with Richard and Helen, people we had made friends with at Menton. We new they were heading for Sorrento but we were unsure if we would catch up with them or not. They booked into the same camp ground as us. It was great to have some company that was close to our age as a lot of the other people we were meeting were much older retirees. The first day we were in Sorrento we just spent wandering around and exploring the town.

We went out that evening after dinner with Richard and Helen for a Beer and I have never been served such a large beer, 1.5 litres I think for 8.00 euro. Only needed one. Next morning I went for a walk down to the local fishing boat Marina to take some snaps only to find that the main lens we use on our camera had crapped out. It would not work and had a loose bit rattling around inside. I spent about 3 hours obsessively trying to fix it much to Rockets frustration. The only thing I managed to do was prove what Rocket said at the outset was right and that was that I new nothing about camera lenses.

The next day we headed for the Isle of Capri with Richard and Helen, Helen’s Mum & Dad and Emily, Helen’s cousin. We had a great day. It is a little off putting when all the decent beaches are “pay for use”. We did manage to find a place where we could swim from a crappy free beach to a fairly nice spot that was otherwise inaccessible.

We left Helen’s Mum on the crappy beach, where she very kindly minded all our stuff while the rest of us including Richard and Helen’s dog Oscar swam to the nice beach. Oscar and Alby worked on their synchronized rock diving act (wait for the photos) while we generally took it easy on the beach.

Back to Sorrento for a quiet night after everybody exhausted themselves at Capri. Next day Rocket and I caught the Train to Pompeii. Pompeii was buried in Volcanic ash around 79 AD after Mt Vesuvius erupted. The town was sealed in a tomb of hardened ash until excavations started in 1748 to unearth a well preserved picture of life over 2000 years ago.

Some of the buildings that remain intact date back to before 500 BC. Amazing to see a lot of things haven’t really changed that much. the one disappointment was the amount of rubbish that lay around the site and the inadequate attempts at actually preserving what was there. We arrived back to Sorrento to catch up with Richard and Helen and were lucky enough to get an invitation from Helens Mum Evie to dinner. We had a great night out and thoroughly enjoyed everyones company.

While in Sorrento we were trying to organise our Green Card Motor Vehicle insurance to travel through Turkey as Turkey is not part of the EU. We spoke to someone at the insurance company before we left and it was meant to be a simple process.

Wrong! We started of with the Vehicle recovery number in France as all the other phone numbers we had were free call numbers and could only be used from the UK. We managed to get a number we could dial but it was a call we had to pay for. On two occasions we got put on hold for so long we had to hang up for fear  of the cost of the credit card call.

I eventually got through to somebody who told me what we wanted to do was impossible as we had to get the card sent to someone in the UK and they could forward it to us. This was not an option as the time frame that the insurance Co. had said to allow when we contacted them in the UK did not allow for that and we did not want to have to stop somewhere in the north of Greece waiting for it to show up in the Greek mail.

If you think I was getting frustrated at this point it was nothing compared to Rockets frustration with me at not being able to organise our travels better. We eventually got onto a really helpful guy at the insurance co. He gave us his email address and helped ensure we would get what we needed.

About lunch time we set off for Bari, on good advice from Mels mum, on the East coast of Italy where we were going to catch a car ferry to somewhere in Greece. We didn’t know where yet we were just going to sus it out when we got there. Like a lot of our travel plans they just kind of evolved.

Only problems came when Rocket and I started going down some completely different evolutionary paths and that lead to some fairly spirited if not entertaining debate about how I could be so stupid to not know where she wanted to go or perhaps as usual I just did not listen when she told me. Anyway after these occurrences she let me know in no uncertain terms where she thought I should go!

So onward to Bari via the very scenic Amalfi coast. This would be without question be one of the most scenic sea side roads I have ever driven also the scariest. Often only wide enough for one bus or truck, with every second bend blind and often nothing more than a crappy Italian built bit of railing saving you from a 200 metre drop into the rocky sea below.

Some places the railing was gone as something had already crashed through it and it had never been repaired. It was spectacular but it left Rocket a nervous wreck as she was on the side of the on coming traffic and I was not keen to get to close to the drop off. We arrived in Bari, to call it dump would have been kind, just in time to miss the last ferry to Greece for the day that had been delayed due to bad weather.

We later found the Italians could not come o terms with the fact that we just wanted to go to Greece and we didn’t care where. They were used to people actually having pre determined destinations. We resigned ourselves o having to spend the night and most of the next day in Bari which we were quickly learning was not the safest place for Aussies in a British registered Renault Trafic.

We drove out of town looking for a camping ground as we thought this would be the safest only to find on the out skirts of town about 5 spot scrub fires burning out of control with no fire fighters in attendance. If you think we were not very impressed with Bari you are right.

After about 35 km and nothing resembling a camp ground we started heading back towards Bari on a different road. We came across what initially looked in the dark like a camping ground but turned out to be a private fenced in residential estate complete with security guard on the gate. We asked the guard if he new where there was a camping ground and he took pity on us and let us park just inside the gate as long as we were gone by 6.30 am. A bit of a challenge for Rocket and I but by this stage we were desperate.

Next morning after a sleep and some breakfast in a seaside carpark, felt relatively safe in the daylight, we headed into Bari again to check out the ferry options. After determining Patra in Greece would be a good destination we booked on a ferry leaving at 6.30pm. We spent the rest of the day trying to find a super market to do some shopping and an internet cafe to check our emails, particularly the state of our green card. It took most of the day because every thing in Bari was a drama.

We got onto the ferry and found a good place for the night, we went without a cabin to save about 150 euro and intended sleeping in the lounge. In the lounge we met an American school group on tour from Missouri and befriended the teachers. We had a great night with them in the ships disco.

About midnight they headed for there cabins and Rocket and I for our special spot in the lounge. It became obvious fairly quickly that we weren’t going to get much sleep there. Even though we had been told we could not sleep in the van and that the main door to the car deck was locked Rocket managed to find another way down to the van. After assessing the safety issues and identifying an escape route should the worst happen we set up camp in the Renault. We got not a bad nights sleep except for the noise of all the trucks off loading at another Port on the way to Patra.

We arrived in Patra at 11.00am which became 12.00 after the time zone change. Driving off the ship the rear muffler parted company with the rest of the exhaust system. Charlsey you were right a symptom of the van not being used much recently before we bought it was that the inside of the exhaust was fairly rusted and with all of our travels it had rattled itself to death.

We are now carrying around the broken bit with some vague plan of getting it repaired. Although we may not, as along with the throaty, sportier exhaust note we are also getting noticeably better fuel economy.

Off the Ferry we headed for Olympia as Rocket and I both believed it to be the home to master sculptor Phidias’s “awe inspiring” statue of Zeus. One of the seven wonders of the ancient world. At least thats what we thought when we read in Lets Go Europe.

After about a two and a half hour drive and not being able to find mention of it we read the book more closely to find that Olympia had been its home up to about 1000 years ago where it was remove to Constantinople only to be destroyed by a fire there.

Not a complete disaster as Olympia was a nice place to visit and we found a reasonable camp ground right on the beach for our first night in Greece. Next morning we set of along the coast of the Korinthiakis Kolpos for the Korinth Canal. We had a vague plan of stopping before we got there if we found a nice spot along the way. We did find a nice spot but it was a bit early in the day and we thought we would find another. Well we were wrong we found a couple of places but none that both Rocket and I liked. I think I have to lower my expectations!

We eventually arrived at the Korinth Canal late in the day and after driving around some very bumpy, narrow and dusty roads to get a good view of it and some photos we ended up in the bus car park at the east end of the canal. This is where I made a major mistake. I forgot to listen to Rocket when she said this would be a good place to stop. I suggested we push on to a camping ground close to Athens to get an early start into town the next morning.

All of this despite Mel telling me all she wanted to do was stop and free camp for the night. Any way against her real wishes she agreed to head or Athens which was about 2 hours away and it was already 8.00pm. You guessed it the camp ground was a shocker we both got little sleep, again highlighting just how evolving travel plans can result in difficulties.

Anyway after about a day of looking for the right spot we got over that and found a great spot at a Marina only 6 km from Athens. We also found a place to park the van for free about 200 metres from the Acropolis. Loosing the day turned out to be a bit of a bonus as we ended up in Athens on the first Sunday of the Month with all of the historic attractions accessible for no charge.

We had a great day exploring the Acropolis and Plaka regions before heading for Cape Sounio about 70 km to of Athens to see the Temple of Poseidon at sun set, and yes this did still exist. We found a beach in a nice little bay just out of a small village with about 5 other camping cars set up for the night and joined them for the night.

We met some lovely German and French people and shared 3 bottles of wine with them. It was a rather entertaining evening as the German couple could speak a little bit of French and a little bit of German. The French people could speak only french and of course we could only speak english. Still they were nice people and we had a fun night. Right about now we were finding it to be difficult to get  camping gas, the type of change over gas bottle we have for cooking and the fridge.

We tried many places all the next day, being directed from place to place that apparently definitely stocked it only to find they didn’t.

Hope we find some gas soon.

All for now more to come.