Four years in the planning, we were going to spend 6 weeks driving through France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and mainland Greece to Rhodes in our motorhome. We would take six ferries and cross the Swiss Alps. The planning had been meticulous, the van was as ready as it would ever be, and the route was safely installed in the sat nav. What could possibly go wrong?
For a full written account of our travels and preparations, please scroll down to the bottom of the page.
(Please click on a thumbnail to enlarge the image)
Living the Dream
National Lampoon – 2017
The day began just like any other. Got up, did some housework, sorted the animals, and the usual stuff. It wasn’t until we dropped Truffle, the Faithful Border Terrier off at a friend’s that our adventure began to get real.
Four years in the planning, we were going to spend 6 weeks driving through France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and mainland Greece to Rhodes in our motorhome. We would take six ferries and cross the Swiss Alps. The planning had been meticulous, the van was as ready as it would ever be, and the route was safely installed in the sat nav. What could possibly go wrong?
We pulled off the drive at 3 pm on Saturday 2nd September 2017, for the short first leg of our journey to lunch locally thinking that this might be the last decent meal we had for some time. Fed and watered, we eventually got going properly at 4 pm to catch our ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe. The drive was pleasant and uneventful, apart from a long bumpy section of road that jolted us remorselessly regardless of how slowly I drove. Despite this, we arrived with so much time to spare that I decided to put the fridge on gas while we waited to board. It wouldn’t light. Our normally reliable fridge refused to ignite whatever we tried. Knowing we had time to kill, I stripped off the outer covers and discovered that a tiny screw that retains the burner was missing meaning that the assembly was not correctly aligned. A quick Google search confirmed that the screws can vibrate out, and I thought back to our bumpy arrival. The problem was, the screw had not just fallen out, it had completely disappeared and was of such an odd size I knew that I did not have one in my spares kit. Luckily, the fridge would still work on 12 volts when driving and mains hook-up when parked on sites, so we would be okay until we got to Greece and started wild camping, and this at least would give me time to sort out the missing screw. Meanwhile, I was looking forward to a few hours of sleep in the cabin we had booked for this, our first crossing.
Once the loading started we were soon onboard having been near the front of the queue, and we grabbed our overnight bag and set off to find reception for the key to our cabin. The girl took our tickets, scanned them, and returned them telling us that no cabin had been booked. We both knew that this wasn’t true and even our tickets had ‘Accommodation’ written on them, so we asked her to try again. No, no cabin was booked for either the outward or return trip. Sensing the futility of arguing, we decided to try to find some comfortable seats so that I could at least catch a few hours of sleep before the proposed 380-mile drive tomorrow. The seating areas were unpleasant and smelt of sick, the bar areas were noisy, and it was too cold out on the deck so we decided, unwisely in hindsight in terms of safety, to chance going back down to the van. Oddly unhindered, here we managed to get a couple of hours of sleep, and we were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed when we arrived at Dieppe at 5 am local time in thick fog.
Not wishing to leave anything to chance, we had invested in a top-of-the-range Garmin Camper sat nav, and used the linked software for inputting our routes right down to the campsites we would be using on our outward journey. So I was confident on leaving Dieppe that the instructions I was getting to go straight ahead were correct, even when Linn pointed out signs for Amiens and Reims to our left. At Rouen I started having doubts, eleven miles from Paris I was sure, we should have turned left when Linn said. We pulled over and I double-checked the sat nav, the inputted route was correct, so I could not understand why it was sending us to Paris, way out of our way. I had a hard copy of the route printed and a decent map, so we could always resort to those, but I wanted to use the Garmin so that Linn would not have to map read all the way. I finally found the problem in the settings, for some reason the sat nav had defaulted to ‘no toll roads and it was sending us on a most circuitous route of minor roads around Paris. Having corrected this, and with Linn checking the map as we went just to be sure, we were soon back on course and happily paying the toll fees as we sped southwards.
The toll roads, although often boring, are useful for getting around quickly, and on some, large brightly coloured roadside sculptures, painted balls, or random shapes are sporadically placed to keep drivers alert. While on others, acres of open fields, that as we were passing, had just had crops of sunflowers harvested for their oils, or maize bursting from brown whiskered cobs rustling in the breeze like a gathering of bearded old men murmuring at one another. Rundown farmhouses that were once surrounded by small pastures, stood lonely and dejected amidst the huge prairies. Now and then, signs indicated the next parking Aire, usually shaded by a small copse of trees, these oases offer toilet stops and somewhere to rest up. We found some that weren’t particularly clean or inviting, but most were excellent, and great comfort stops far better than our own services.
The drive to Le Bonhomme is a steady ascent up a tree-lined road, with now and then a break onto far-reaching vistas back down the valley. It is a good road, even in a four-ton camper, but the alternating two-lane sections are an indication of the slow-moving traffic both up and down the mountain. Going up, the heavy vehicles are sluggish with their loads of freshly cut lumber, and coming down, they are forced to stay in a low gear using the engine to arrest their descent and avoid brake fade from overheating. The slow pace suited us just fine as it gave us a chance to enjoy the scenery after the toll roads. The spectacular viewpoint at Le Bonhomme was busy, and as we had stopped only a little while before for photographs, we passed straight through and started the long descent into Kaysersberg.
Switzerland and Germany –
Kaysersberg Municipal Campsite had been a personal recommendation from a regular traveller of this route, and we were not disappointed. The campsite is set beside a raging mountain river on the edge of the town. It is carefully laid out, with large pitches screened by hedges and trees, each with its own mains hook-up and only a short walk to all the excellent services. We were soon set up and enjoying a beer while a red squirrel pranced about at our feet looking for nuts. A German guy in the next pitch had started setting up the awning on his caravan as we arrived, an hour later he was still struggling, even after Linn had given him a hand. He was still beavering away a couple of hours later, and we counted our blessings that setting up for us meant just putting the handbrake on, and reaching for a beer from the fridge.
The village centre was only a short walk away, along the river bank where local children have put up dare-devil swings and knotted rope climbs. On the other bank, there were some pretty gardens, but nothing could have prepared us for the beauty of the old centre. Brightly painted timber-framed houses dating back to the 16th century, when the first vines that the region is now better known for were brought over from Hungary, sat side by side in a tapestry of colour. Tiny back streets meandered under overhanging leaded windows, and we passed by old solid oak doors with intricate rusted ironwork. In places, the houses projected over the river that was sparkling in the evening sun as it tumbled flamboyantly over large boulders washed down during winter storms. We didn’t have time to fully explore this ‘Hansel and Gretel’ place, our diversion to the outskirts of Paris that morning had seen to that, and after 12 hours and nearly 500 miles driving we were keen to find somewhere to eat. Down one small little street, we found an unassuming little restaurant and bar that looked promising. The waitress smiled politely, showed us a table, and handed us the menus, which, I am ashamed to say, we could not make head nor tail of. I have never been good at languages, English is a struggle some days, but I had hoped that whatever schoolboy French I could remember would do. It didn’t, but worse was to come as I realised Linn, who I normally rely on in these situations, was looking just as blankly back at me. The waitress returned with a pen poised, and Linn tried to explain that we did not understand the menu in the hope that they might have one in English. The waitress did not understand, and by now the other two couples in the restaurant were amused by our ineffective attempts to communicate, they even tried to help but it was only making things worse as they were German and spoke little English or French. Finally, Linn managed to convey that she is a vegetarian and that at least reduced her choice to only two things, one of which appeared to be a pizza, she chose the other. I had already planned my approach, I would simply point at a few items, shrug, hand back the menu, and ask the waitress to decide. I think I got horse. I’m not bothered, it was dead anyway, so it would have been a shame to waste it.
We were glad that we had planned to return to Kaysersberg on our way home because it was such a beautiful place, with so much to see that we were unable to do it justice during this flying visit. It was dark as we wearily walked back along the river to the campsite, and as we settled down for the night our German neighbour was still sorting out his awning.
It was odd to wake up and not find Truffle pestering us to be let out, and this luxury meant that we could lie in for a while as our neighbour banged in a few more pegs. Today was the day I was due to become a granddad, and the start of many days anxiously waiting for news, but she was in no hurry and it would be a while before she put in an appearance. I kept my phone close to me. We enjoyed a quick stroll around the campsite and marvelled at the amount of equipment some people travelled with, mobile satellite dishes set up on tripods, outside gas-fired ovens, and even tables and chairs set up with candelabras. We finally decamped our more modest setup and got going around noon.
The road to Colmar was fast and took us through some picturesque countryside. Windmills lazily turned as they pumped irrigation water through field-wide linear sprayers that moved robotically on small wheels. Tractors ploughed backwards and forwards through freshly turned coffee-coloured soil while seagulls squabbled overhead. The odd combine was harvesting the last of the sunflowers amidst a cloud of dust. Occasionally, through the branches of small coppices, we caught a glimpse of the tumbled remains of an old farm building, with maybe an ancient tractor rusting away on perished flat tyres. It was a pleasant drive made more enjoyable by the excellent French drivers who we found to be the most courteous in all of our travels. We had heard that Colmar is even more beautiful than Kaysersberg, but the road skirts around it, and the few buildings we saw were much like any other modern town, but it is on our list of places to return to.
The road continues to run parallel with the German border to Basel, and it was only because of the German graffiti as we drove through one of the many tunnels that we realised we had crossed the border. Our stay in Germany was short-lived, and we were soon at border control into Switzerland where we had to buy a vignette routiere that would permit us to drive our 3850-kg vehicle on their national roads (motorways). A pistol-toting female officer signalled us out of the small line of cars, and we felt sure that a full shakedown was imminent, so we got all our documents ready including the registration V5 that would prove our weight. However, she simply asked for 40 euros for a normal vignette, handed Linn the windscreen sticker, and sent us on our way while others were having their boots checked and luggage unloaded.
Basel is a sprawling city on the borders of France, Germany, and Switzerland, I understand that it is a very interesting medieval town, but all we got to see was the odd glimpse as we rocketed between the road tunnels that run under it like a badger’s holt. The driving style had now changed, and the Swiss-plated cars seemed intent on getting in front of us at all costs, it was a shock after the politeness of the French. Following a quick fuelling stop, I was keen to get off the chaotic national road, and I was relieved when the sat nav told me to take the first exit. However, Linn, who was still map reading, told me to carry on, and after our last unwelcome sat nav-instructed detour, I reluctantly obeyed. It wasn’t long before the sat nav was telling me to make a U-turn, but Linn was resolute, and as it turned out, her route did take us to the same place as the other would have, it just meant that we remained on the national road for longer. Apart from this exception, navigating proved quite straightforward for the rest of the journey, and we were very grateful for all the planning.
The scenery continued to improve the further south we went, either side of us snow-capped mountains with cascading waterfalls tumbling into tranquil lakes as reflective as mirrors. Picture postcard houses nestled in the hillside folds and looked like if you lifted the roofs you would find a neat stack of cigarettes and a mechanical tune would play. Tan-coloured cows grazed languorously in the greenest of pastures, each with its own creosoted wooden shack for storing the winter feed. The odd farmer was stacking hay with well-worn wooden pitchforks. Besides long stretches of the road, cycle tracks conveyed the fit through breath-taking scenery in isolated safety from the speeding vehicles, it was the epitome of good, clean, healthy living. As the mountains grew higher, the lakes grew deeper and bigger, and with less room to follow its course, the road, and we, would dive, mole-like into the side of a hill in one of many tunnels. Some were short, with daylight visible on the other end as you entered. In others, it felt like you were diving into the centre of the earth with only the roar of the car tyres and the flickering artificial light for company. One tunnel even has junctions within it, how these were built and the engineering behind them to allow one underground road to cross another was bewildering to contemplate. The longest of all the tunnels is Gotthard. It is ten and a half miles in length and passes under the Gotthard Pass, an important trade route since the 13th century. When it was constructed in 1980 it was the longest road tunnel in the world, it is now the ninth longest. Unusually for a motorway tunnel, it consists of only one tube with two lanes which may have contributed to the disaster in 2001 when two lorries collided and the resulting fire killed eleven people and injured many more. There are now several escape routes along its length, and large ducts pump fresh air in to prevent the build-up of toxic gases. The traffic was steady in both directions the day we drove through, and it took considerable concentration not to stray across the white line as we felt the wall to our side bearing down on us. Fortunately, we were safely jettisoned out the other end into bright sunlight, and the sat nav announced that it was acquiring satellites again as we bordered another lake.
The miles flew by in a picturesque blur of the rural beauty of Bellinzona and Lugano until we spilled out of Carona Tunnel onto the causeway at Melide where we had our first glimpse of Lago di Lugano on whose shores we would spend our second night. Campsite Paradiso is right on the water’s edge in the small town of Melano, we saw it as we drove passed on a National Road with no exits. The next town is Mendrisio and this was our first opportunity to double back and find the access road to Melano. Despite the rush hour traffic, chaotic road works, one-way streets, and dead ends, I managed to pick up a probable-looking road that took us under the motorway we had just left, and eventually alongside the lake into the small town of Melano. Dropping down towards the lake, we were confronted by two low tunnels that advised only a 300mm clearance above our roof. I moved forward at a snail’s pace just in case some miscalculation caused us to hit the unforgiving concrete structure. The campsite was stunning, with pitches that ran right down to the water’s edge with mountains on either side. Unfortunately, it was priced accordingly and was by far the most expensive site that we stayed at. The friendly guy at reception took our money, told us the number of our pitch, sold us the special adaptor required for their particular electric hook-up, and then disappeared on a motorised kid’s scooter. When we found the allocated pitch, a couple was sitting having a picnic in our spot, they didn’t move. Not wishing to spoil their meal, we found another vacant pitch, set up our chairs at the water’s edge, and sat in silence soaking up the atmosphere. Ducks dabbled in the still waters while trees sent lengthening shadows across the mown grass banks. A swimmer, with exaggerated stroke, silently passed by with an occasional turn of their head as they took a breath. Now and then a ripple would appear as a hidden fish stole an insect from the surface. All was quiet except for the distant sound of a motorbike enjoying the bends of the twisty lake-side road. It would have been easy to sit here all evening, but we wanted to explore the local area, so with a huge effort, we set off to find somewhere to eat in town.
After a short stroll and we reached the town, where, not wanting to walk beside the busy road, we crossed into a pedestrian area with young children playing. We passed impressive chapels and cobbled squares with gushing fountains, and stumbled across Osteria Rusticanella, a small Italian restaurant that spilled its gingham-covered tables onto the pavement. Locals were eating there which is always a good sign, so we sat at one of the small tables and were greeted in such a friendly way by the hostess that we felt like guests in her own home. Her husband came out to smile graciously at us as he checked us out having been told there were two foreigners there. As he walked passed the table with locals, we heard him tell them that we were English, and we turned just in time to find them leaning over to get a better look and then welcome us with big grins and enthusiastic nods of their heads. Evidently, not many tourists find this little gem, probably preferring the big pizza house we had seen, or maybe the burger bar on the main road. The food, and the wine, were delicious. The only downside was our realisation that neither of us had brought any Swiss francs with us, and we stupidly only had euros. When we went to pay, our hostess was happy that we had enjoyed the meal and handed us the bill that requested a modest number of Swiss francs. Linn and I discussed our options which jokingly included making a run for it while the lady happily nodded in agreement having not the slightest idea what we were talking about. I offered her a card, but she shook her head sadly and held both hands up submissively, gesturing that she could not take it. From this though, she concluded that we had no cash, and with a big smile she tugged me by my arm to the doorway, and pointed down a steep narrow footpath saying “Bank, bank”. I thanked her and set off leaving Linn as collateral. I had reached the bottom of the hill when I heard the familiar two-finger whistle that Linn often uses to summon me like a sheepdog at a distance. I turned and saw Linn beckon me with both arms aloft, and when I got breathlessly back to the top of the hill, she informed me that they would take euros after all. As we paid the bill our hostess was chuckling to herself, and the locals at the table were smiling around the corner of the doorway, even the husband had appeared again with his big friendly grin, and then the lady flexed her bicep, pointed at Linn and laughed out loud, clearly showing us that they thought Linn whistled like a man.
The next morning, we left the campsite by 10 am, and backtracked easily to the A2 that would take us down to Italy, the sat nav now working well. At the Italian border, we were confronted by three lanes, the left was clearly for cars only, the middle appeared to be for vans, and the outside lane was definitely for lorries, we opted for the middle lane as this seemed the most appropriate. I slowed, expecting a barrier or border control agent to stop us, but we just drove straight through, no passports, no search which was unusual even for the open borders of the EU with illegal migration such a problem. We concluded that we looked so boring that not even customs would stop us, but Linn did say that she felt like a gangster’s moll when I suggested she keep an eye on the mirror for flashing blue lights.
Italian roads were by far the worst that we drove on. The individual lanes of the motorways were so narrow, that as the speeding lorries hurtled past, they rocked us alarmingly from side to side. Car drivers saw us as a target to be overtaken, they raced up beside us, swung in front so tightly that I had to brake, then slowed us down from the 68 miles an hour it had taken me twenty minutes to build up to. As I attempted to build up speed again and pass them, they accelerated so that I had to pull back in and they would slow down again. It was demanding driving, so we stopped for fuel and lunch, and to let our nerves settle. It would have worked too if the diesel pump had had an auto shut off, and not spilled diesel all over me and the side of the van. Exasperated, I pulled into a nearby parking space for lunch onboard the van.
The onward drive to Fano was no less taxing, so I was glad when the sat nav told us to turn off the motorway and led us along a convoluted route to the campsite. Camping Fano, according to the website, was an amazing beachside campsite, with a heated pool and luxurious showers. What it failed to mention was the busy railway line that runs parallel to it, or the security fence surrounding it, and that the toilets are just a tad worse than the long drops at Glastonbury. But, relieved to have survived the motorway, we checked in with the young lad at reception, who then mounted his bicycle to show us our beachside pitch for the night. With some difficulty, we followed him through a maze of chalets and semi-permanent caravans until we entered a quiet area with a few other large motorhomes. It would have been ideal if he could find a space for us. Finally, after he had told other campers to move and I had nearly hit a tree, I ignored his vague directions and parked up alongside a live-aboard van, complete with a washing machine and large domestic fridge set up under their awning. He rode off on his bike muttering to himself. I hitched up the electric, unwound the awning, and we sat and enjoyed a beer before exploring the site. We had paid a ten-euro deposit for the magnetic key to the showers, but on seeing the shocking state of the facilities, Linn went back to reception and asked for our deposit back explaining that we would be using our own. The site had a prime beachside location, and that was all it had going for it, we had planned on staying there on our return journey, but there and then we made the decision not to.
We had an early start the next day to catch our ferry, but the noise from the railway woke us long before the alarm went off, and we were sorted and left before 8 am. We decided, having risen so early, not to re-join the toll road, and instead, we had an interesting drive down the coast road to Ancona, The road was poorly maintained, and took us through areas of derelict industry and rundown ghettos as the sat nav urged us to turn right onto the motorway in what seemed to be a slightly anxious tone. Once respectable, and probably beautiful parks now lay desolate behind huge cast iron gates hanging off their hinges. Railway sidings were full of unused goods trucks, buffer to buffer as the paint peeled from once colourful timbered sides bearing names of businesses now long gone. Occasionally a cluster of shops was the only tangible evidence that people still lived here, for the houses were largely rundown and showed little evidence of being maintained or occupied.
We arrived at Ancona with time to kill, so having checked in, we found a kiosk in the car park selling hot drinks and freshly baked croissants. There was a lively argument going on at one table, partly in Greek and partly Italian. The bushy-bearded Greek man was thumping the table to get his point across, while the Italians were sitting there shaking their heads and muttering in disagreement. Then, the big fella suddenly got to his feet, warmly embraced the others, and left telling them that he would see them all tomorrow giving the impression that the same scenario would play out each day, and that whatever the topic was, it would remain a contentious matter that they would always agree to differ vociferously on.
A few other camper vans that arrived seemed to know the procedure for boarding the ferry, and once they had checked in at the office, they set off along the link road that went to the border control gates, so we followed their lead. The line of traffic soon came to a standstill, as a smartly uniformed policeman walked beside the heavy goods vehicles in the line, kicking plastic cones out of the way. When he got to us he signalled excitedly for me to move forward and start a new line, they were splitting the traffic because they were searching the trucks for illegal immigrants, but the smaller vehicles were being allowed straight through border control, no search, no papers. Since we seemed to attract no interest at all at any of the borders, Linn and I discussed the possibility of running a drug or people trafficking business, we discarded the idea of the drugs when Linn mimed someone putting on a rubber glove.
The Ancona to Patras crossing was our longest ferry journey taking twenty-three hours, and we had reserved an outside cabin. I told Linn that I had booked a cruise. Parking the van, we were lucky to find a spare electric hook-up onboard in the garage area so that we could run the van fridge. Our cabin was fine, with two single beds and a small en-suite, and a large window from which we would be able to watch the land pass by, but for now, we went up to the pool bar for a beer or two as the ship left port. Most of the passengers were German, and rude, showing none of the courtesies of others onboard. They took over entire areas with their bags on empty seats while others had nowhere to sit. A few were travelling with dogs, the most we counted was five with one owner, the dog exercise area was a yellow puddled side deck that we soon found was best avoided. We returned to the cabin to freshen up before dinner in the main al la carte restaurant, it was surprisingly quiet compared with the buffets and smaller fast food outlets. A smiley waiter greeted us, and found us a nice table before asking if we had a voucher, we replied no and asked about this curious coupon. He explained that we should have been offered a voucher at the reception that would have entitled us to a discount, we hadn’t been, but no worries because the prices looked reasonable anyway. The meal was simple but good, and our waiter was attentive and good-humoured, and at the end of the meal, he presented us with our bill that had a thirty percent deduction, explaining that because we had not been given a voucher, he had kindly applied his own staff discount. He turned out to be one of many nice people we would meet on our trip.
In the morning Linn was anxious that we were not late for disembarking, and rang reception who confirmed that we would be stopping at Igoumenitsa at 7 am and landing at Patras at 1 pm local time. We had breakfast up on deck at the pool bar and watched the jagged coast of mainland Greece pass by on our left, with the islands of Corfu, Paxos, Kefalonia, Ithaki, and Zakynthos dotted to our right. We were close enough that the smell of herbs was carried on the gentle breeze to the ship, and we could see the small coastal settlements of white houses basking in the sun. It was, in a peculiar way, like coming home, the sights and smells so familiar.
We landed at Patras bang on time, and as soon as I had unhooked the electric, we were off, with no passport control, straight onto the main E65. With the sat nav struggling to locate satellites having just been woken, I got lucky and guessed the right way at the first junction, which was soon confirmed by the comforting voice telling us to continue on the current route. It is a very fast, brand-new road, some sections were still under construction, and it follows the sea nearly to Ancient Corinth and our site for the night. Aphrodite’s Waters was another personal recommendation, a small site only a short walk from the ancient city that was once the provincial capital of Greece. I planned our route using the Garmin software and ViaMichelin, and for extra detail, I used Google Earth to zoom in on critical areas and had seen that the approach to the campsite was through very narrow village streets. However, I had been assured that larger vans than ours could access the site, so I was confident that we would be okay. Linn expressed her concern with a short shriek or two at various points, but we found the gateway to the site, and it only took three shunts to get through due to the narrowness of the street we were leaving.
The walk up to Ancient Corinth took us through narrow, shady, bar-lined streets. Local men sat around arguing about politics and money, they broke off long enough to smile and nod at us before cursing some other dishonest politician and taking another slurp from a beer bottle. Things were probably pretty much unchanged for thousands of years. Ancient Corinth was once one of the largest and most important cities of Greece, famed as a centre of trade it had a population of 90,000 in 400BC. The site that remains is a flattish area of about eight football pitches, and while a good amount of the old buildings and architecture are still standing, many more must have been destroyed by later wars and modern buildings. What is left is stunning, the stone carving is of the highest standard, with marble statues adorned with the most delicate flowing robes under towering crenulated columns that once supported fine porticos that fortunately have not yet been restored to the point of destruction as found elsewhere in Greece. Regrettably, our visit was cut short because they were closing the site for the evening, but vowing to return we retreated for a frappe and people-watching in one of the many bars. Later, back at the campsite, we followed the gravel path up to the springs and the caves that we had been told about earlier, our expectations not being too great, so it was a surprisingly rewarding revelation to find not just damp moss-lined caves with crystal springs gasping forth, but also signs of ancient buildings now partly hidden by verdant undergrowth. A flight of ancient worn stone steps lifted us to another level but ended abruptly where a block of modern apartments had been built presumably on top of the remaining steps. Besides ancient scripts carved precisely into the rock, contemporary hands had carved love messages and other graffiti in further proof that the Greeks are still learning the potential of their ancient past for bringing in tourists to boost their flagging economy. Assuredly much of their ancient history remains undiscovered, but vast amounts of their known archaeological sites are often covered over again as a means, they claim, of protecting them for future generations, when the reality is that they just want to build there. We even know of one place where a hotel is being built on top of a Mycenaean temple, the only planning restraint being that they integrate glass panels in the floor so that people can see the fragments of the intricate mosaics beneath.
Our neighbours for the night were a Dutch couple returning home from Portugal before spending the winter in Morocco and they had many interesting tales to tell. They had driven their motorhome to most European countries, but not the UK because, as he explained, we drive on the wrong side of the road, and, he added, our roads are all raised in the middle, the camber, and that meant we were always leaning to one side when we drove. I had to concede that indeed, our wetter climate did mean that our roads were constructed so that the water would run to the sides, and yes, their flat roads with banking on the corners were a lot nicer to drive on. We learned about their bohemian lifestyle every winter in Morocco and even managed to tell them about enough places of interest in the UK that they said they might get there one day. He enquired what the black patches were on our headlights, and I explained that they were beam deflectors so that our headlights would not dazzle oncoming traffic when abroad, he chuckled, explaining that they would never bother with stuff like that if they did go.
We were up early again the next day, and I was able to check in online to pay one of our previous tolls that the machine had not been able to accept for some unknown reason, you have fourteen days to pay before incurring fines. Navigating the Italian website was a challenge, but I wanted it sorted so as not to sustain any penalty. We then intended to empty the grey water tank and fill up with fresh water, but having watched a German guy empty his toilet into the freshwater drain, and then rinse his cassette with the drinking water tap, we decided to give this a miss. As we were leaving, a young girl came out and enquired how many nights we had stayed when we said one, she asked for 10 euros and bade us a safe journey, it was a small price to pay for their kind hospitality.
We found a slightly wider route through the village back to the toll road, and we soon passed over the Corinthian Canal although our view of it was very limited, we didn’t mind though because we planned to visit it on the way home anyway. With time to spare and the toll road now seemingly quite uninteresting, I left at the next junction that took us down to the old coast road with fine views of the Megara Gulf. Spotting a tree-lined avenue with the glint of the sea at the far end, we parked up in an empty square and walked down to the pebbly beach where the waves fell lazily over each other and the stones fizzed as the water retreated. Trees offered a little shade, and upturned boats somewhere to sit as we watched the locals meander down clutching towels before wading in and bobbing about in the cooling water as the sun reached its zenith in the midday sky. Thankfully there was no sign of the recent major oil spill just a few miles down the coast at Athens, and we could have been a million miles from the sunken tanker.
I had secretly been dreading our arrival at Piraeus but had not shared my concerns with Linn for fear of making her anxious. Both the map and Google Earth showed it to be a fury of roads where it would be easy to get lost, or worse, hit by one of the many huge lorries that serve the nearby refineries. The roads did not disappoint, so I was relieved when we arrived unscathed, and in plenty of time. At the dock, large overhead gantries indicated the gate numbers, and if our paperwork had told us which number we wanted, these would have been quite useful. I gambled on gate E2, parked up, and was told that we needed E3. At E3 we were told we needed E1 and directed to follow some lorries along the harbourfront to avoid entering the chaos of the city again. Checking in was simple, and we were told that we could park and wait anywhere, but since they did not issue us with a destination sticker for the windscreen, we decided to start a new queue right beside the loading ramps so as not to be forgotten. The ballet of the loading began, choreographed by no one in particular but many at once, lorries appeared from nowhere and disappeared into the bowels of the ship as directed by gesticulating men in red overalls. Motorcycles zig-zagged passed the shouting deckhands so that the owners could tie their steeds up with the others and get to the bar as quickly as possible. The odd car got on, but most were refused, and queues began to spread out like an unruly spider’s web. Taxis dropped off families clutching shopping, who then stood around anxiously in the centre of the beautiful dance, waiting to be allowed to get onboard. Everywhere was bedlam, and only one man seemed to know what was happening, and he was walking around belatedly giving out the windscreen stickers when he might have been better directing traffic. The ferry was going to stop at several islands before Rhodes, and I was keen to get on so that we did not have to move the van to let others off at the first stop; we had booked a luxury cabin, and the thought of having to get up at six if we had to move our van did not fill us with joy. Two hours later we were still waiting, there were now about ten men attempting to direct traffic, and the ballet had turned into a farce. The dockers shunted the largest trailers using agile little tractor units and paid no attention to the men in red overalls. A man with epaulettes appeared on the scene who seemed to take charge momentarily until he viewed the chaos and left again. Another man, who looked like one of the passengers, took over and managed to get some sort of system organised until everyone started ignoring him too in their desperation to get on board. Finally, we were told to go onboard by a new man on the scene, and when Linn asked if we would have to get off again at Kos, he just shrugged, saying he had no idea. Once inside the garage deck, confusion reigned again as no one knew where to put us, there seemed no allocated spaces for motorhomes, so we were sent up to another level and three guys attempted to direct me into a tight slot between lorries with casual disregard. The entire loading procedure had taken more than four hours, and they now confirmed that we would have to get off at Kos because we had been loaded too late. We weren’t very happy, but know this to be the Greek way, and have learned to roll with it.
At the reception, the girl issued our cabin keys, and one of several porters rushed forward to take our bags. Our cabin was great, large with even a lounge area, forward-facing windows, a huge comfortable bed, and a fully functional en-suite. The mini bar was stocked, and free, and there was a delicious fresh fruit salad waiting. The chaos of embarking was a distant memory as we enjoyed a really good meal in the restaurant with only a handful of other passengers, before turning in for the night in readiness for the bedlam that we anticipated at Kos.
The men in red overalls were all on duty again by the time we got back down to the van at six, and after several vehicles were moved, we were told to turn the van around and go back down the ramp to the entrance level. Here the lorry drivers efficiently offloaded their vehicles at breakneck speed without any help from the crew, and somewhat bizarrely, we were instructed to wait on one side of a loading ramp as they hurtled passed. Finally, after several harrowing near misses, a chap with epaulettes told us to move a few inches to our right before sliding his hand across his throat in a gesture that I hopefully assumed was telling me to turn off the engine. I was still concerned that one of the speeding lorries might hit us, so I sat in the van for a while making sure that we were not obstructing anyone. Epaulettes came back, and mockingly, by pointing at me and miming with his head in his hand and snoring, suggested that I could now go back to bed. I mimed an imaginary pair of glasses to show him that I was watching the lorries, and with that, he disappeared into a small crew area and returned clutching a sesame seed bread ring that he offered me with a huge smile, and that I gladly accepted before going back to bed.
Our advantageous position right at the top of the ramp when we arrived at Rhodes meant that we were first off the ferry, and following the directions of the policeman we joined the coast road south in less than a few minutes. Passed the new marina with its luxury yachts that seldom untie from the quayside, they are, in essence, floating hotels for their wealthy owners. Passed the ancient south gate of the old walled city with startling crimson Bougainvillea adding a splash of colour to the drab stone walls. Over the new raised section of road that joins two disparate levels of ancient and modern landscapes with a view of the cardboard ghetto that is home to the itinerants who eke out a living from what others throw away in stark contrast to the vulgar displays of vast wealth only a few meters before, where one vessel’s annual mooring fees will amount to more than all the unseen inhabitants of this entire village will see in their lifetimes. It was food for thought as we reached Lidl’s to buy food for our stomachs.
Linn and I are pretty good at food shopping. Without consulting each other, we throw item after item into the trolley as we stalk down the aisles. So I was surprised to find a watermelon the size of a large medicine ball atop our essentials and assumed that someone had confused our trolley for theirs. I don’t even like watermelon. Linn responded to my raised eyebrow saying that she did, and it was the smallest they had. So we kept it. Now I’m not obsessive about unloading the shopping, but there’s a place for everything, and everything in its place, that is until it comes to huge watermelons. Finding that we did not have a cupboard big enough for it, I nestled it firmly between the pillows on our bed where I thought that it would be safe during our onward journey. Wrong. We were little more than half a mile down the road when a local coach pulled out in front of us causing me to do an emergency stop. The watermelon was projected from the pillows, gracefully flew through the air, and hit the back of our seats before exploding in a welter of red flesh and seeds that came to rest looking every bit like the remains of some gory roadkill. Thankfully the worst of the gruesome entrails were confined to the vinyl floor making the cleaning process a little easier, but it still took a long while to pick it all up, and while I carried the remains in a black bag like a murderer with a dismembered body to a nearby skip, Linn set about scrubbing the scene of the crime. It was an inauspicious arrival on our favourite Greek island.
Pefkos is a second home to us now. It is not just that we love the place, but also seeing our many friends who live there. Over the years we have seen the village become more and more commercialised, aimed at the flourishing tourism that has become its major benefactor. Once typical Greek tavernas with outside kleftiko ovens and chickens in the yard, are now swish restaurants with ornate fountains and multi-lingual menus. Regrettably, the small supermarkets where you could only buy fresh eggs, local milk, and honey before, now, in addition, offer inflatables and gaudy towels decorated with scantily clad females, or overpriced proprietary brands from back home. No longer grocery stores, they have become souvenir and fashion outlets.
The hill down to Pefkos is known affectionately as ‘heart attack hill’ because of the steep gradient when walking up. The bakery is set about two-thirds of the way to the top and almost makes the climb worthwhile, almost. But that day, our first of many in Pefkos on this trip, we had more important things to do than sample the delicious local pastries. We parked outside the hotel and shop of some friends with whom we have spent so many great times, and even been to their youngest son’s traditional Greek wedding. We have known Mihalis since he was a schoolboy, and when he did a short stint of national service before leaving to join his elder brothers in the family business. And it was Mihalis who greeted us with a huge hug when we walked into the shop, and an accusation that we had not let them know we were coming, we joked that our booking must have got lost and wasn’t room 101 ready for us as requested. Then we led him outside and showed him our motorhome parked in the street, he hugged me again, saying that we had finally made our dream come true, and he was genuinely excited and happy for us in the childlike way that the Greeks naturally have. Assuring us that our van would be fine parked on the double yellow lines his brother had helped to paint, Mihalis explained, “they are only there to look at”, and we popped next door for brunch in their bar.
Anthoula waits tables in the Palm Bar and surely has one of the most miserable and downtrodden countenances of anyone we have met, but her face always lights up when she sees Linn, and she excitedly greeted Linn with no more than a perfunctory glance in my direction. As she took our order, she told us how lucky we are, how she had no money, and how she had to work seven days a week, omitting that she only works six months in the year with plenty of time off, and drives a brand-new prestige car that few UK waitresses could afford. Chris, on the other hand, is a slightly podgy waiter with a permanent grin who runs himself ragged while attending tables at two restaurants, and seldom has the time to stop and talk much, but seeing us that morning, he headed over and asked when we arrived, and what room we were in. We explained about the camper and our journey across Europe, and he listened intently and with some disbelief since many of the locals have not even travelled around their small island let alone been abroad. He popped his head around the corner to see for himself our white behemoth before he dashed away and returned a few minutes later with our meals before being summoned back to the kitchen.
Refreshed, we moved the van down to the waterfront and parked up as discretely as we could in the car park for a quick siesta, but it was too hot to sleep, so we went for a swim instead. Bobbing around in the warm water, it was so buoyant that I could float vertically with my arms by my side while out of my depth. I shouted to Linn who is always bemused by my natural buoyancy, and encouraged, I tried different positions and found that I could also float while sitting up with my arms folded. Being unfeasibly buoyant does have drawbacks though, I cannot surface dive because my legs always float despite all sorts of weird kicking movements, and I am certain that if I ever fell unconscious into the sea, I would float head down with just the soles of my feet showing. The beach was emptying by the time we swam ashore, so we rinsed off under the showers before dressing and visiting our friend Mikey who owns a nearby bar. Mikey’s bar is aimed at British tourists and is called ‘The Pub’, we prefer the local tavernas, but it is always good to see our friend and we had a quick pint and a chat before leaving for a meal at our favourite restaurant on the island. Philosophias is set right on the edge of a cliff with the distant sound of waves way below, reed thatched canopies shade pale blue and white rustic wooden furniture, and a plethora of cats amble from table to table or lie motionless in the flower beds, too heat exhausted to move. Dimitris, our unassuming young friend, greeted us warmly and asked how was our journey as he was one of the few people I had told of our expedition because I had sought advice from him before setting off. Despite his quiet nature, he is a member of their special forces and a motocross bike rider with many useful contacts when it comes to all things outside. Phillip, the owner, was next to come over, and with casual confidence pulled out a chair which he slouched into as he asked about our trip, explaining that Dimitris had been keeping him informed. Phillip enjoys a glass or two of wine, in fact sometimes just the bottle, but he assured us that after an accident last year in his wife Barbara’s beloved car, he was now drinking less, we saw no evidence of this and we would enjoy many more evenings of his company during our stay. After our meal, we walked along the beach back to the van for an early night.
We were swimming in the sea the next morning before seven while the beach was deserted, and already the air temperature was approaching forty degrees, this was the start of a heat wave that would last three weeks and bring with it the strong Meltemi wind. As I sorted breakfast, several English people stopped by for a chat having noticed the UK plates on the van, and all asked the same burning question of how we had driven down to Rhodes and crossed three seas. An early morning jogger, an elderly couple who caravanned, and another younger couple all told of their ambition to do a similar road trip sometime in the future, and we urged them not to leave it until it was too late, time having a habit of stealing precious experiences. This became a little bit of a theme during our holiday, so many lovely people came up for a chat, some were keen just to find out our route, others enquired about the circumstances that allowed us the luxury of six weeks away, and one little guy summed it all up nicely having seen us a few times and watched us inflate the kayak, popped his head around the door and said simply “Living the dream guys, just living the dream” before wandering off. While we were happy enough basking in the heat, our poor camper fridge expressed its grave concern at being asked to operate in such temperatures and consequently failed to stay particularly cold. The lack of cold beers, never mind the absence of fresh food, was going to be a major problem, so I set about finding a solution. I fashioned a replacement screw for the one that had dropped out of the burner, but the fridge still failed to get down to the required four degrees, I had read that sometimes the gas jet can become blocked, and I used our compressor for blowing it through, and this did improve things for a while, but we were still forced to throw out quite a bit of food that we had purchased for the next few days when we had planned to be off-grid. We popped up to see Mihalis’s mum, Federa, in her shop to get some more provisions, and we were greeted with her usual joyous laugh as she struggled to contain her excitement. We gave her the little gifts we always bring, two homemade preserves, one from Linn and one from me, saying that we looked forward to hearing which one the family voted was the best. Over the years I have been a regular winner, but I think that they are influenced because this is not the sort of thing Greek men do. We collected our groceries and promised to return soon.
There is a remote beach called Mavos Cavos on the south of the island that when we first started going there twenty years ago, was known only to the locals, and then only to those with four-wheel drive vehicles. Michalis, on hearing that we used to drive our small hire car down the rough track, once asked if we had hired a tank and if I was a member of the SAS. On seeing the car after our visits to the beach, he had once exclaimed “This is not a car, this is Halloween” and immediately offered us a hose to wash it. Nowadays the track is much improved, and it is even possible to drive the motorhome down the first four kilometres to another beach called St. Georges, unfortunately, this also means that the once private beach is now quite popular with tourists and can sometimes have as many as a dozen visitors a day. At St. Georges though, the usual thing is for people to stumble across the beach having come to the end of that track, have a quick look, and then leave, and on the day we arrived at the small parking area in the dunes was busy so we tucked ourselves away out of sight in a hidden clearing surrounded by bushes. Here we were able to sit in the shade of the awning, undisturbed until it cooled down a bit when we went for another swim followed by a six-mile walk along the beach to Mavos and back. By the time I set up the barbecue it was already getting dark, and I ended up trying to cook by torchlight which was my excuse for a pretty poor meal that evening that included burnt raw vegetables if such a thing is possible.
The following day, Monday, we inflated the kayak and packed it for a day out, picnic, swimming and snorkelling gear, beach tent for shelter for Linn to avoid the dreaded prickly heat, fishing stuff, and cameras. A gentle offshore breeze was agreeably cooling in the ferocious heat as we paddled, arriving at Mavos Cavos at the same time as the regular hotel cruise boat that anchors just offshore to allow the sweaty occupants a chance for a cooling swim and a quick onboard picnic before motoring off to the next place of interest. Our new beach tent proved excellent, literally erected in twenty seconds and providing factor 40 protection for Linn’s pale skin, it would be invaluable during the heat wave. A few people appeared during the day and then left again, but mostly we were left to ourselves apart from the Greek spear-fishing man who we had seen many times before. He was always alone, always set up his little camp in the same place, and would always strip off and sunbathe before donning massive flippers and swimming around the headland. Only once had we seen him catch anything, a good-sized octopus, but he was relentless in his search and we could track his progress from his bright orange snorkel and pale pink bottom sticking slightly above the water. We had a gentle paddle home that evening, just in time to enjoy a glass of wine as the sun set behind the hills of Macheria.
Tuesday was too windy for taking the kayak out, so after a breakfast of yoghurt, honey and nuts we decided to have a walk to Mavos Cavos. On the way, we passed our Greek fishing friend pulling a hired 4×4 off the beach with his battered pickup truck, and we could not help but smile as we wondered how long they had been stuck before either he chanced to see them, or they had interrupted his naked slumber. There were a few people on the beach when we got there, including the Greek fisherman who had managed to get there before us in his truck, and we headed for the rocks at the far end where we spent the morning swimming, sheltered mostly from the wind that was now whipping a spray off the little crests and sandblasting those unwise enough to set up their towels on the middle of the beach. We returned to the van for lunch and a much-needed siesta, stopping on the way at the grey-green pool surrounded by tall reeds that shushed in the wind like a stern librarian silencing unruly students. The pool sat motionless in a hollow in the sand, fed during the wet winter months by a now seasonally dry stream, and evaporating slowly so that each day it was a little smaller. If we stood long enough, and still enough, occasionally a spikey dorsal fin would track along the surface, or a rise of bubbles would indicate an unseen monster in the depth. We have never actually seen any, but we have christened the place Turtle Pool, certain that when no one is around they all come out and sunbathe lazily on the sand. After lunch, we walked along the beach in the other direction until we came to the clutch of locked-up holiday homes that never seemed to have any visitors. We knew of course that people did go there, from the driftwood furniture built on the beach and the hidden dens in the dunes made from locally cut bamboo, but the nearest we came to seeing anyone there was an un-shuttered window that silently opened one day allowing the mysterious house to draw breath. The light was perfect for photographs, intensifying the colours and shadows as the sea was whisked into a meringue of white peaks and dark troughs. As the sun set, the sky took on a moody appearance, ambiguous as to whether there was a storm brewing overhead, or it would pass harmlessly inshore of us.
With the fridge still playing up, we had all but used up our supply of fresh food and it was time to move on. We packed the kayak away and had one last walk along the beach and a quick swim before setting off to replenish our larder. There is a supermarket not far away that is run by twin brothers, whom we have nicknamed ‘Brothers Grim’, because unusually for Rhodians, they rarely smile. It is always an unspoken challenge for Linn and me to try to be the first to get a smile out of them when we visit, but today we were greeted with an unsolicited smiley welcome from them both as soon as they recognised us. It is a well-stocked shop, and we were able to get most of the things we needed, and could make do without those things we could not get. Freshly re-stocked, we stopped at the local garage to fill our water tank before overnighting at a nearby beach bar called Mojitos. We had spent many hours here during previous holidays, but we had never been able to fully indulge in the drink of the bar’s name because of the onward drive we needed to do to return to our hotel. This time would be different. Parking at a jaunty angle in the car park to demonstrate our intention to move on if needed, we found the owner Flora who welcomed us with a big bosomy hug. We tried to show her the van, but by now it was too dark, and she insisted that we stayed, and offered us water and an electric hook-up if we needed it. We explained that we were self-sufficient, but accepted her invitation to park somewhere ‘more shady’ so as not to be seen from the road, even the islanders are sometimes mindful of their licensing laws. Set up for the night, we returned to the bar where Andreus, Flora’s husband, bought us our first drink with a big thumbs-up gesture from where he sat slouched in deep conversation with some locals. We enjoyed a massive mixed salad washed down with rather too many mojitos, before stumbling back to the van and having a very peaceful night.
Surprisingly fresh in the morning, we sought out Flora or Andreus to thank them for their hospitality fully intending to move on, but at her insistence to stay as long as we wanted, and Flora’s irrefutable logic in asking where else would we rather be, our plans, loose as they were, changed and we went snorkelling for a couple of hours. There is a small reef just off the shoreline, and it is a haven for thousands of fish of varying sizes and colours, it makes for excellent snorkelling and a chance for me to practice taking underwater pictures. Time seemed to stand still with the sun on our backs and so much to see. When we did finally get back to the beach, we marvelled at the clarity of the water in the shallows as we watched small flat fish scuttle up to our feet in anticipation of the goodies we would disturb as we sent small sandstorms swirling around our toes. Ashore, the sun loungers were now occupied by the glamorous set, who lay there silently soaking up the sun like beached seals, only moving to apply another layer of sun cream or to adjust ridiculously expensive swimsuits to expose just the right amount of pale skin. One of the long-haired barmen, in faded surf shorts and a mahogany tan, brought trays of drinks so that they would not have to walk back to the bar when thirsty. We have seen the place change over the years, at first it was just a rustic shack and a couple of abandoned vans with furniture dotted around made from old palettes painted bright primary colours, a few hammocks slung between suitable trees, and a single circular bamboo hut with plump cushions were the only comforts. An old truck with the bonnet propped up and a barbecue where the engine used to be served as the only method of cooking, and the aromatic smell of mint wafted up from the cultivated borders as handfuls were picked for crushing into the bottom of the cocktail glasses. Nowadays it boasts a purpose-built bar with 6 rooms above to let, numerous huts and tree houses, wooden walkways onto the beach that are edged with empty bottles that twinkle in the moonlight, a platform for the resident astronomer to mount his large lensed telescopes taking full advantage of the lack of light pollution, and freshwater showers cunningly concealed in the branches of dead trees in the sand. But for all this, it has hung onto the bohemian appeal that first attracted us, and as with many places, it is the people there that make or break the specific ambience. That evening, in the bar, we watched two girls plait another girl’s hair and add extensions until running out of hair, they grabbed one of the long-haired lads behind the bar and cut a large section off so that they could continue in a process that lasted several hours. In the dark, voices drifted across from the tree house which was the only indication of anyone being there. Some locals arrived late, and either helped themselves to drinks or just slumped into the low chairs and drinks magically appeared in front of them as soon as the bar staff could rouse themselves from their mutual flirtations or their other unhurried duties. A large Doberman dog with one ear bandaged, lay looking sorry for itself under a table, while the resident kittens played tag and their mother beat up a downtrodden-looking black Labrador who had been minding its own business. Above us, shooting stars pierced the pitch-black sky, like sparklers dropped from the distant glow of the Milky Way. No, nothing really changes when the right people are there.
Still anxiously waiting for news from home about the arrival of our granddaughter, we were up early the next morning and I swam while Linn practiced with her new high-tech inflatable paddle board. Swimming out a fair way I was able to get photos of Linn on the board with the reed thatched beach huts behind, just the sort of shots I had been asked for by the importers of our inflatables for putting on their website. But as the wind picked up again, the sea became too choppy and we abandoned the exercise in favour of breakfast followed by a couple of hours snorkelling before crashing out, exhausted from our activities. On the beach we discovered that the black pebbles were about twenty-five percent heavier than the other colours using a fulcrum system made from split bamboo, we also found that the maximum number of small pebbles we could stack one on top of the other was thirteen. They say that the devil finds work for idle hands.
We had arranged to meet some very dear ex-pat friends the following morning at the local garage as we were unable to get our van up to their mountainside home, and I was topping up the water when Ray and Viv arrived. Linn greeted them with “Hang on, I’m just holding Pete’s hose, so I can’t hug you”, and that set the tone for the rest of the morning as we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at a nearby taverna. They had moved to the island after Ray had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and being told that the warm Mediterranean climate would help his condition, it must be working as he has exceeded his grim prognosis by nearly ten years, and both of them seemed to be in the rudest of health. We enjoyed our bawdy banter as flying lizards acrobaticed from tree to tree and athletic young waiters filled their time between visits to the gym by serving tables and preening at the bar. We always enjoy meeting up with these two, but every visit is tinged with sadness because Ray’s condition is never very far away, and soon enough it was obvious that he was tired so we made our excuses and invited them back to the van to collect their contraband from home, two jars of homemade gooseberry jam for Viv and a few hundred Yorkshire Gold tea bags for Ray.
After another night at St. Georges, we decided to move inland to escape the persistent wind, and on route we drove along the picturesque coast road to the small village of Apolakia, turned left down the track that would take us across a large seasonally dry river bed, passed the well-tended allotments to Michael’s Coach. We had first met Michael in a local taverna many years before, a dishevelled little man who wore a heavy coat all year round, and who bought us a drink so that he could sit with us and tell us of his Mafia connections. With dubious exaggeration, or possibly not, he explained that his face was on more wanted posters around the world than anyone else’s. Between his own embellished accounts, and what we could glean from the other locals, it seemed that whatever the actual truth, this little old man had had a pretty adventurous past and that he could speak several different languages fluently seemed at least to indicate that he was certainly well-travelled. He spent his days helping the local fishermen and walking between his remote old coach home and the taverna where he was a local celebrity. Sadly, on this visit, we found the coach deserted and the small compound around it padlocked, dried grapes hung in bunches of wrinkled raisins from the vines that tangled through what used to be his outside dining area. A couple of kittens eyed us nervously from the branches of an olive tree, and a skinny dog checked us out before going back to its resting place in the flattened grass in the sun. The old tin barbecue, whose ashes never used to have time to fully cool, now contained congealed black cinders, and a tree, once adorned with hanging trinkets garnered from fishing nets now stood bare and dead as a solitary reminder of passing time. We never found out what had happened to Michael, but I doubt that he will be returning to his make-do home.
On route to Monolithos, we stole a watermelon that had been overlooked in one of the fields and then continued up through dense forests that carpeted the mountainsides in a mat of verdant green. At first glance Monolithos has little to offer the visitor other than the huge, somewhat vulgar, ‘Panoramic’ restaurant that towers above the road in a frenzy of pictorial menus. But keep on driving and as the village peters out, the view ahead opens up to encompass the entire sweep of the majestic bay, the numerous islands beyond, and diminutively, in the middle of it all, the ancient castle ruins and white-painted chapel perched atop a single outcrop of rock so high as to be unapproachable except from one direction. At the foot of the rough path to the ruins, we bought an ice cream to set us up for the steep climb up. The chapel was resplendent in a fresh dazzling white coat of paint, with the blue and white flag flapping noisily in the wind from the obligatory pole. Inside, dimly lit by a few spindly memorial candles and a pungent paraffin lamp found burning in even the remotest of chapels, the dark heavily carved chancel screen depicted stories from the bible, but sadly the recent coat of paint had been applied inside as well, and the walls that were once covered with ancient murals were now patchy white with only the merest hint of what lay beneath. It is a bit of a scramble down to the original chapel ruins, but I wanted to check out the latest collapse of the ancient arched roof, for on our every visit a bit more of it has invariably fallen in. As I assessed the latest damage and the breath-taking views from the open end of the old building, I noticed a young girl sitting with her legs dangling over the precipitous drop, and concerned for her safety I kept an eye on her until I realised that she was doing no more than taking selfies with her phone propped up with a few rocks. I was still relieved when she got up from the edge though, and a little surprised when she came and asked me if I would take pictures of her with her phone. It struck me as being sad that she was here alone, with no one to share the majesty of her surroundings with, and the prospect that her pictures would end up as dodgy selfies on some social media site for friends she had probably mostly never even met. I was glad to scramble back up and rejoin Linn and to just stand together, quietly, relishing the view and the ambience of this medieval place.
The road from Monolithos down to Fourni is a hair-raising series of zig-zags with a sheer drop on one side and an unforgiving mountain on the other. I had ‘driven’ it several times at home using Google Earth to check its present condition, and with experience of having driven it many times in our small hire cars, I was pretty certain that I could safely get the motorhome to the bottom. There were only two bends that concerned me, neither of which I thought we could get around in one hit, and reversing on that incline with loose gravel under the wheels would always be a challenge. At the first, I was able to find the right line to get around it, just, though I am certain that the middle of the van overhung the road at least at one point. Linn looked very anxious, and I could tell how nervous she was by the little screams she let out occasionally. At the second bend, it was obvious that we would not get around it in one, and I was very grateful to the driver coming the other way who predicted my situation and rolled backwards down the hill to give me plenty of space. I nudged forward as far as I dare, then with a little prayer that our all-season tyres would find a good grip, I slowly reversed back to gather a more advantageous line. Everything went well, and as we passed the considerate oncoming driver, he gave me a big thumbs-up gesture while I patted my heart to show that it had been a tense moment. Just before Fourni there is a tiny cove called Alyki that is signed with a rustic marker bearing the amusing inscription – “Welcome to Alyki Beach. Natural mystic. Please keep it natural and wild. Sun beds.”
Fourni is a locals’ place, with a shelving pebble beach that does not invite casual swimming, its main assets are the small canteen and the hidden tombs carved high up on the rocky peninsula. The tombs can be reached via a steep climb up a fairly poor path, and as such are not well-known. There are two large tombs, angular rooms cut into the rock that overlooks Limni Bay. Above them are two smaller tombs, each with enough room for two bodies to have once laid side by side. And on the flat of the rock are two bath-shaped indentations that the locals claim was for the exclusive use of nobility, although this seems highly unlikely given their prominent position in what would have been in full view of everyone there. Having explored the ancient site, we walked back to the van that we had parked in a small clearing away from the main car park area and enjoyed a beer as the sun set in a burst of Jaffa orange sending flame red streamers across the water.
Monday, 18th September 2017, today I became a grandfather. Unaware of the events unfurling back at home, my day started by trying to coax the fridge into operation again using the compressor to clear the dust from the gas jet. That, and being faced with a mounting pile of washing and a rapidly depleting stock of fresh food, meant we abandoned plans to drive north to Ancient Kamiros, and set off back up the zig-zag hill towards Genadi where we knew there was a launderette and hopefully a fridge engineer. On arriving we discovered that the launderette had closed nine months before, and no one had even heard of a gas fridge let alone repaired one. We were told that the nearest launderette was Lardos, about ten miles up the road, and since we liked this pleasant little old Greek town, we were happy to visit thinking that we could go to a taverna while the washing was in the machines. In yet another setback to our plans, we found that the launderette was closed until five, and with little else to do, we decided to head back up to Pefkos and see if we could use the machines at our friends’ hotel. Mihalis, as usual, was most obliging and told us of course we could use their machines, but first enquired if everything was alright and that we were okay. We explained about our unreliable fridge, that it was complicated because it could run on mains or vehicle voltage as well as gas, and he sucked air over his teeth as he shook his head sadly and said that no such thing existed on the island, so we would find no one to repair it. We mentioned that some boats have a similar fridge and that we might go to the new marina at Rhodes town to find an engineer there, but Mihalis insisted that he would make some phone calls and get back to us. In the meantime, he offered us a large cool box that he said would keep things cold for a few hours at least, but it was so large we had nowhere to keep it, and as we pointed out, even if the fridge did not get cold it would still keep things cold for a few hours, so we declined his kind offer. We waited for our washing with a few drinks in their bar, and we were soon joined by Mihalis’s father Antonis. Antonis is a lovely man, and like many Greeks has an eye for a pretty woman. Many times in the past he has suggested that I take his wife Federa home with me, and leave Linn with him. Or that I return home on my own to earn enough money to come back next year and have another holiday with them, promising, with a twinkle in his eyes, that Linn would be fine with him. Apart from Linn, another shared interest is that Antonis was once, for a very short time, a carpenter like me. Having spent much of his youth filling water bottles from the fountain in the square at Lindos and selling them back to tourists, he then met David Gilmour, the legendary guitarist in Pink Floyd who had bought a house in Pefkos. They became good friends and David offered to fly the teenage Antonis to America where he could serve an apprenticeship so that he would have a trade. Antonis tells how he cried all the way there having a dreadful fear of flying, and when he arrived he was immediately homesick and returned less than six months later to build up an impressive property portfolio with his sheer hard work and own efforts. His three sons share his entrepreneurial drive, and all of them could comfortably retire but, instead, prefer to carry on working in the numerous family business interests. Antonis hugged Linn affectionately while asking me how business was back in the UK, he mentioned that Michalis had told him about our fridge and asked how he could help. When we explained the problem, he agreed that maybe no one on the island could fix such a thing. As Linn took him off to show him the inside of the van, the eldest son Phillip came to tell me that he too now knew of our fridge problems, and he would also phone someone to see if they could get it fixed for us. So, within an hour of our first mentioning it, we now had an entire family of friends trying to resolve the problem, and we knew that if anyone could, it would be this family. Phillip enquired where Linn and his father were, and when I told him they were looking at the camper, he agreed, with a chuckle, that I should probably go and rescue Linn if they were not back in twenty minutes. Antonis loved our home on wheels, and with typical Greek forthrightness asked how much it was worth, when I told him some hugely inflated price he said he would buy it there and then. He said it was the answer to all his prayers, never again would he have to fly anywhere, and he rushed off to tell Federa. Collecting our washing from the driers, we drove back down to the beach, and while setting things up for the night, a text came through to tell me that our little granddaughter had been born, and mother and baby were fine. We swam reflectively for an hour or so as the sun set, before showering and dressing for another splendid evening meal at Philosophias and a glass or two to celebrate. Another day and a whole generation older, Grandad, surely I was too young for that?
The morning arrived in a dazzle of sunshine and a temporary lull in the wind, the weather was so promising that we decided to take both the paddle board and kayak out. While we were setting them up, three more couples stopped by to have a chat, all interested in our trip, but also with stories of their own to tell. They say that having a baby or a dog is good for opening conversations, we would add having a motorhome to that list, for we find that we meet the nicest of people when we are away in ours. We spent the day paddling our crafts and snorkelling, before enjoying an excellent lunch at the beach bar. We feel that it is important to contribute to the local businesses wherever we go, to show our appreciation for the tolerance they show us when we park our self-sufficient mobile home nearby. And after a well-earned siesta, we kayaked over to the small cove to watch the sunset, a final swim of the day, and then supper in one of the few bars not showing some football final on large screen tellies.
My son texted again the next day to tell me the name of our new granddaughter, Olivia Jasmine, a pretty name we thought. So, it was with high spirits that we set off for a paddle around the bay in the kayak, fully intending only to have a short trip out. But one thing led to another, and one interesting rocky outcrop after another beckoned us further. We paddled into tall narrow caves the size of cathedrals where the water went from crystal clear to the deepest blues. Luminescent flashes of blues and orange announced the presence of swooping kingfishers that went from one rock to another while on the hunt. A discarded orange fishing float bobbed erratically, and on closer inspection, a foul-hooked flatfish was grateful to be released as we pulled the tackle onboard. Flat rocks, as smooth as soap, let the tepid water gently slop over them, inviting us to come ashore and rest. In some coves, we saw locals who had risked the perilous climb down to sunbathe, or fish, or have a cooling swim. Occasionally flashes of silver broke the surface as flying fish exuberantly went about their business. And while we marvelled at the beauty of nature all around us, further out to sea loud engined glass-bottomed boats roared past, their thrill-seeking passengers oblivious to what was under their noses.
Linn was being surprisingly tolerant of my “just one more corner” responses as she indicated her nervousness about how far we had paddled. So, when one more corner brought us to a large bay that we had driven alongside many times, I knew not to push my luck and suggested we turn around. I thought Linn would welcome the suggestion, but instead, she asked how far Lindos was saying that since we had got this far she knew I would like to carry on. I explained that it was a tough call, we had already paddled at least six kilometres and Lindos was still a good five kilometres away if we headed straight across the bay, there were two small islands on the way in case of an emergency, but they would leave us stranded if we were forced to land. Taking the safer route along the shore would add another kilometre at least to the journey, but would mean that I could at least get back to the motorhome and come back and pick up the kit if all went wrong. “Let’s just do it” was all I needed to hear, and we set off at a cracking pace around the coast on the longer of the two routes. Arriving at St. Paul’s Bay, Lindos at water level provided breathtaking views of the acropolis far above us as we surfed through the narrow opening in the rocks. After the solitude of our journey, the screaming crowds on the beach seemed unwelcoming, so we paddled up to some fishing boats and tied alongside to have a quick swim. It was probably about then that the enormity of our accomplishment hit home and with it the daunting prospect that we had to do it all over again to get back. If either of us had any doubts about our abilities, we could have got a taxi back to Pefkos and returned later to pick up the kayak, but it seemed that was never going to be a serious option. Having checked the equipment, and had the last of our drink, we pulled back through the narrow gap and eyed with dismay the grey clouds looming over Pefkos. I decided we needed to take the shorter route, in case a storm was brewing, and we boldly set off for the first island, then the second until we were finally clear of the dreaded open water in the bay. That morning we had pottered in and out of the various indents along the coast, unaware of the journey ahead of us, but now we knew that we had no time to be so leisurely, and apart from optimistically dropping a fishing line to trail over the side, we paddled on like demons possessed. I think we were about three kilometres from our destination when I noticed that Linn’s stroke was weaker on one side, the side she has arthritis in her shoulder, and I had to adjust my stroke to keep us going straight. I then got cramp, so badly that I had to straighten my leg over the side in a desperate attempt to relieve it, I couldn’t stop paddling as the wind had picked up now and without my power stroke we would drift backwards. So when a small pleasure craft passed nearby, they would have been undoubtedly amused to see Linn slumped over her paddle insisting never again, while I squirmed in agony with my leg still over the side and both of us in fits of laughter. We did get back and even stopped at one of the coves for a swim first, but by the time we did the sea was twisting angrily so we were glad to recover the kayak quickly up the beach and go off for a beer to celebrate. Later, refreshed, we went swimming but spent most of the time jumping waves such was the state of the sea by then.
When we saw Mihalis and told him of our trip to Lindos, he eyed us critically and told us “It is impossible to kayak to Lindos. It is too far, no one has ever done this Dangerous Pete,” using a nickname he had given me some years before.
The night proved to be very disturbed, whether it was the wind rocking the van, or the noisy locals who decided 3 am was the best time to empty crates of bottles into the skips at the end of the car park I wasn’t sure. But it was late the following morning by the time I phoned the RNLI to enlist Olivia as their youngest ever Storm Force member, Ben, her father, had held the prestigious title for many years when he was just a couple of years old. The girl on the other end of the phone went through the questions in an almost bored manner, “Name? Address? Age?” “Two days.” “Age?” “Yes, two days,” She wrote it down before she fully realised what I had said, and then shouted excitedly “Two days, that makes her the youngest ever yet! Oh, how exciting. Really? Two days? Lucky girl.” I heard her shout to others in the office, and then there was a general babble of chatter as they confirmed the details. Ben had received his Storm Force magazine and annual pin badge until I finally cancelled it when he was twenty-seven, I wondered what Olivia would be doing when she was that age.
Several more people stopped by that morning for a chat and to tell us that they had seen us out kayaking yesterday,
To be continued –
Preparations for a National Lampoon 2017
Buying a suitable motorhome –
First, buy a van! We had sold our last camper because other interests meant that we seldom used it, and a seemingly incurable damp problem made it smell like a wet dog that had rolled in something when we did get around to it. In its place, we bought a small caravan with a huge awning that served us well for annual holidays for over ten years until a change of circumstances promised more time to enjoy another camper. We started a search for the right van that would take eighteen months. Our criteria included a fixed bed (we didn’t want the hassle of making up a bed each night), shower (we would be free camping, and cleanliness is next to Godliness), decent kitchen (self-catering reduces costs dramatically), and space to properly relax (our days tend to be active, and somewhere comfortable to chill in the evening is a luxury). Incidentals included having sufficient storage space and a suitable payload. All within budget.
The first thing that got forgotten was the budget.
Our research indicated that the Bessacarr E760 would fill most of our criteria, but finding a decent one proved outside of our initial budget, which, we soon realised, turned out to have been unrealistic. Hours spent trawling the internet threw up a few hopefuls, but nothing that would convince us to take the plunge until we finally found one on eBay at a local dealer. Determined to remain objective, we looked at two other makes with similar layouts before even going inside the one we were interested in, and discounted them. Details like the ground clearance of the exhaust on one was a problem because we knew we would be going off-road with it. And the other was not suitably insulated for our planned four seasons use. On finally going inside the Bessacarr, we struggled to find anything that we did not like, or that would not suit our purpose. So, quite spontaneously for us, we decided our long search was over and we ended up owning a motorhome by the end of the day.
The van came equipped with a large fresh water tank, solar panel, dual habitation batteries, and two 13kg propane cylinders and was fully winterised with a double floor for all-season wild camping without an electric hookup. It also had blackout blinds all round including the cab, and fly screens to the windows and habitation door for overseas or Scottish travels and the pesky midges. And a pull-out awning for sun and rain protection was a bonus. The only extra we requested at the time of the sale was for a tow bar to be fitted to protect the rear end, and for possible occasional towing which we are still to do.
We have now added the following equipment –
Battery master for split charging the vehicle and habitation batteries from single solar panel (extending the period we can be off-grid without power hook up)
New, matched, quality leisure batteries wired to charge/discharge evenly (matched batteries outperform unmatched ones that only work as well as the weakest battery, live feed from one and negative from the other ensures equal charge/discharge rate of both batteries)
LED reversing lights to work in conjunction with the fitted reversing camera (the infra-red reversing camera has a limited area of vision at night, this has been substantially extended by fitting high-output LED reversing lights)
Growler alarm system from Vanbitz (total security system for peace of mind)
DashCam (for recording our journeys and possible use in the event of any claims)
Smoke and Carbon Monoxide detectors (early indicators for smouldering fire risks and potential gassing from heating appliances)
Fire extinguisher and fire blanket (powder form for extinguishing small fires, and worst case scenario as last line deterrent for intruders)
New sound system with WiFi connectivity and additional speakers (ability to source music from external devices with enhanced sound, and phone connectivity)
All internal lights converted to LED’s (huge saving in electricity drawn, and vastly superior internal lighting)
Garmin Camper sat nav (permits van details to be entered to avoid hazardous routes)
Mud flaps (to protect the underside of the vehicle)
Sophisticated alarm and immobiliser system (protects the van in our absence, and when we are asleep at night, includes visual deterrent LED’s and wall of sound internal confusion zone)
LED daylight running lights (required in Switzerland) (while using dipped headlights should conform, advice is that daylight running lights are a legal requirement in Switzerland and some other countries)
Michelin mud and snow camper tyres (camper-specific tyres are required for the high pressures needed and strong side walls to prevent deformation of tyres when parked for long periods. Front-wheel drive campers are notoriously prone to get stuck, even on wet grass, so M&S rating should help. M&S rating is a legal requirement on some roads in France and Switzerland)
Levelling ramps (useful for levelling the van when parked for comfort, and the proper running of the absorption fridge)
Swing-out table (space-saving table always at hand)
Waffle boards – for getting off mud/wet grass (very heavy-duty gridded boards for giving grip in soft or slippery conditions, essential for wild camping and Glasto!)
Cab door security strap (strong, tension strap to fit between cab doors when parked overnight to prevent unauthorised entry)
Gaslow manual changeover and gauge and easy fit thumbwheel hoses (ability to run two gas bottles at once or individually, gauge approximates gas left – these are never particularly accurate, and thumbwheel hoses make for easy, tool-less changing of bottles when required)
Habitation window locks (security devices fitted to prevent unauthorised forcing of habitation window latches)
Roof ladder security board (locking security board fitted to the roof ladder to prevent unauthorised climbing/access)
Converted under seat locker to have drop-down front (for easy access without having to remove seat cushions, and now a convenient shoe/tool locker)
Food grade hose and a box of tap adaptors (ordinary garden hoses allow bacteria to grow between uses, the food grade plastic contains no harmful solubles. And the tap adaptors have been chosen to fit most outlets here and abroad)
On-board compressor (for correct inflation of tyres and re-inflating in the vent that we get stuck and reduce pressure to get going again)
Smart battery charger and smart boost starter pack (the smart charger will re-condition all the batteries when required while on electric hook up. The boost starter pack will start the vehicle if we ever inadvertently drain the vehicle battery – unlikely with solar panel and battery master)
Comprehensive tool kit and collection of spares (for the unforeseen)
CREE LED USB re-chargeable torch (super bright torch)
The travelling requirements abroad are relatively easy to find online, on government, camping clubs, and AA websites, amongst others. One problem though, that quickly became apparent, is that they do not always agree with each other. Some say, for instance, that breath test kits are required for France, while others say not. We decided to play safe and bought the lot –
Hi-viz jackets for all occupants
Two warning triangles
First aid kit
Headlight deflector lens
Spare bulbs kit
Breath test kit x 2
GB sticker – we already have GB number plates, but apparently, the French police sometimes use the lack of a sticker as a reason to stop tourists
There is some confusion over whether daytime running lights are required in Switzerland, or whether dipped headlamps will do, we fitted them anyway as they are assuredly a safety feature.
The process of duplicating and saving all documents relating to the vehicle and travel, the originals of which we are legally bound to take with us, proved arduous. We saved these securely to a cloud storage vault that we can access from anywhere where there is internet connectivity.
As well as all the above, we also carry the norms, amongst other things – camping chairs, food, wine, fishing gear, potable water containers, wine, games, inflatable kayak, wine, space-saving cookware, lightweight crockery, and barbecue. Did I mention wine?
Having used the van extensively in all weathers, and in many different environments, we have also made a few necessary repairs that include – resealing a roof vent (it leaked under certain infrequent conditions), replacing the anti-roll bar joints (noisy, knocking when going around corners), fitting a new hand brake cable (broken outer cover trapped by crimping when originally assembled), repairs/adjustments of external locker catches and reinforcing all internal locker door joints (these are a weak spot on many campers), replaced a kinked pressurised domestic water pipe (replaced before a leak could develop and to improve flow rate), replacement bulbs where required (with so many external lights, the bulbs seem to require frequent changing), and under warranty, we had a soft spot in the floor and a fridge fault repaired. While touring Scotland, we had a heat sensor problem that sent the temperature gauge a bit mad and found an excellent drive-through commercial repairer who diagnosed the fault and replaced the part for a fraction of the cost and time that Fiat quoted. In general, though, we find that continued maintenance, screw tightening, and good husbandry keep most things running smoothly.
Re-plating and upgrading revenue weight –
Eighteen months after we bought the van, I found that there was a discrepancy between the plated weight (the original converters’ design weight) and the DVLA registered revenue weight. The van is plated to 3850kg but was registered to 3500kg, and while this was not in itself legally a problem, it did deprive us of 350kg payload which would be very useful. Both of our driving licences included grandfather rights for category C1 for vehicles above 3500kg having been issued before January 1997, so we did not need to upgrade these, but there then followed a paper chase with DVLA to update the revenue weight. I had to prove the intended design weight of the motorhome by sending photographs of the converters plate and confirmation from Swift Bessacarr, then to be told that because of the change in taxation class, I could only complete the upgrade when the road fund was next due for renewal. The good news was that the change meant a reduction in the annual tax due.
Route planning –
So, with all of that under our belt, we were now ready to plan our route from the UK to Rhodes, Greece, a journey of 2400 miles, 5 countries, and 3 long-distance ferry crossings.
The route proved problematic because of our size and the expense of tolls. While our intention was not to speed through the various countries with no time to enjoy them, neither did we want to spend too long on reaching our destination. Another consideration had to be safety. Unfortunately, crime is higher on the continent than at home, and it is important to avoid unnecessary risks, although many of these have been grossly exaggerated. Threats of gassings and even shootings (none of which seem to get reported in the world press or are ever substantiated) abound, and we are used to them having been reliably informed that we would be cross-bowed when touring Scotland. So, we set about plotting a route that best considered these factors and provided a relaxed and enjoyable journey. Our main tools for doing this were ViaMichelin, Garmin BaseCamp, and a hard copy Michelin European road map. Our Garmin Camper sat nav is fine for setting simple routes going from A to B but too clunky for long-distance route planning.
The framework for this trip had already been decided by our available dates and the booking of the ferries as described below.
We discounted using the tunnel for the first leg for a couple of reasons, one, neither of us was keen on the thought of being below ground following recent terrorist attacks, and two, we were put off by numerous reports of problems with immigrants around Calais (Summer 2017) The ferry costs started to come in much as we had expected, so no surprises there until we priced the last leg from Piraeus to Rhodes. This proved staggeringly expensive, seemingly because there is no competition between operators for the route. The price was so high that we even considered driving through the Balkans and Turkey until we found out that this would mean driving uninsured through three war zones. Now we are no strangers to adventure, but suddenly a mini cruise across the Aegean became very appealing. So this is how we viewed the ferry crossings, as relaxing, sightseeing cruises from A to B, and we booked comfortable cabin accommodation to make the most of it. To get the best prices, we booked these as early as possible, guestimating how long we would need between each one. Time would tell whether we got this right, it was always going to be a compromise between time spent sightseeing and reaching our destination. Having committed to the higher-than-expected total costs for the ferries, we decided to avoid toll roads where possible.
We started by using ViaMichelin to calculate the most direct routes and to minimise tolls, setting ‘no tolls’ returned an ‘impossible to calculate’ result that did not bode well. Finally, after many hours weighing up the various options, we mapped a route that would take us from Dieppe via Amiens – Reims – Saint Dizier – Nancy – Arnould -Le Bonhomme – Kaysersberg (first night stop) – Colmar – Basel – Lucerne – Madrano – Bellinzona – Melano (second night stop) – Mendrisio – Milan – Bologna – Fano (third night stop) – Ancona and 23-hour ferry to Patras – Ancient Corinth (fourth overnight stop) – Piraeus and 18-hour ferry to Rhodes. We chose sites for our overnight stops so that we could use their facilities, and make the most of the little time we would have to explore.
Having plotted the route on ViaMichelin, I then had to transfer it to the Garmin software BaseCamp to save it to the satnav. This proved to be very difficult, and took hours to complete, the BaseCamp software is not easy to use and does not readily permit waypoints to be added, we found that it was easier to click and drag the route than to enter waypoints that it would then circle back to. Finally, we had the route saved to the satnav and we were able to check it for accuracy against the ViaMichelin copy.
The next task was to get our heads around all the varying speed limits, use of tolls and junction controls across Europe. For instance, in France vehicles entering a roundabout have right of way unless signed differently, eg “Vous n’avez pas la priorité” or “Cédez le passage”. And at toll booths we may be charged as a commercial van because of our size unless we say, “Je suis un campingcar n’pas un camion, catagorie trois/quatre n’est pas possible”, meaning “I am a motorhome not a lorry, category three/four is not possible”
“Bon jour, nous ne sommes pas classe trois/quatre, nous sommes une campingcar”, translated from “Good day, we are not class three/four, we are a motorhome”
We decided that we would pay the tolls by card as required rather than buy a Sanef tag which would mean we had no control over what we were charged at each barrier. Likewise, we would buy the vignette for Switzerland once we crossed the border from France.