Greece – Eh, yippee!

I write this on the ferry from Brindisi to Patrasso. On the ferry is exactly the right expression. The assumption that we are actually moving would be a wrong one. We were asked to line up at 6pm with a sailing time of 8pm. It’s now 9pm and we’re still in the dock. It’s a thirteen hour crossing (via Igoumenitsa) so I’m sure we’ll catch the additional time up with the accompanying stiff northerly breeze.

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We didn’t do a great deal yesterday. We thought we would park up in Brindisi and do some admin (post blog, buy some postcards etc), but in the end we drove straight to the port and, second guessing every turn and complicated signage, parked outside the Grimaldi shipping terminal. The clue that we might be somewhere we should be was the large neon displaying: Grecia – Albania. We only wanted to go to one of those. The man behind the desk was lovely. We had two choices of destination: Igoumenitsa which was just south of Albania (hopefully not in it as our insurance doesn’t cover us there); or Patrasso, which was half way down the Greek mainland. ‘How much for the first one?’ €145. ‘And the second?’ €145. ‘The same price?’ Yup. Ferry leaves at 8pm (more realistically 9pm, come on). Whatever, €145 seemed reasonable for either port.

The cabin was a whopping €100 surcharge, so, as we had no plan we decided to go and have a coffee in the terminal and pour over a map to help us make a decision. You would have thought we might have had some idea as to where we were going and how we should get there. But, alas, no. At least we had arrived at a port that would take us to a country we thought we might like to visit.

I really haven’t got the energy to describe the encounter I had with the girl behind the coffee shop counter. She got the coffee order wrong on two occasions and, in v good English, blamed me both times – with complete disdain. At one point I though I might have been in a cafe in Paris, such was the abuse. Oh well. I guess she has the right to be miz if her boyfriend had walked out on her the night before for her younger and better looking sister. Or some other equivalent seismic misadventure.

Back to the maps. We are due to meet Jen (younger daughter) in Athens on 1 March. That’s about four weeks away. If we landed in the North we would probably have to rush to get down and round the Peloponnese (spidery thing hanging down from the rest of Greece like an udder) in time for then. If we landed at Patrasso (the gateway to the Peloponnese) we could spend a leisurely four weeks pottering around the place and then pick up the North later on.

‘No cabin, though?’ Agreed and sealed in blood. We would probably regret it.

Innocenti 950, mmmm

Innocenti 950, mmmm

We booked in and then drove back into Brindisi to post the blog and such. It was a short trip, in and out, and then back to the port. C spent most of the rest of the afternoon preparing supper to take on board (a brill salad thing with bacon and nuts – it must have a name) and I faffed about under Doris’ bonnet, but without any real ambition. To while away a bit of time I skipped for twenty minutes (at one point I counted 175 and was completely knackered) and we both had a shower. We packed up as much comfy stuff as we could so that we could try and sleep on the boat and then, having fed another couple of cats (they’re being notified in advance by some form of cat morse code), made our way to the queue.

Doris at the port

Doris at the port

The ferry is a container ship with a relatively small area for passengers, a small shop and cabins. Doris is the only motorhome; I think there must be about ten cars and vans and the rest of the space is juggernauts. Most seem to be from Bulgaria, although there are a number of Italian trucks and at least one German. The boat is a Grimaldi Lines boat, a company which seems to operate throughout the Med and Adriatic. I believe it’s Italian, operating out of Naples. It is a big ferry with trucks on three floors and poor little Doris squeezed in between them on the top deck, exposed to the elements. I’m sure she’ll be fine.

Doris on deck

Doris on deck

C and I are the odd couple. There are probably no more than seven women passengers and everyone else appears to be a truck driver. Built in the truck driver mould. Legs just long enough to reach the pedals, arms and shoulders circular in nature to grip the steering wheel, and a big tummy to rest your beer on. But, unlike the UK, we didn’t feel as though we were in a transport cafe. Everyone was quietly going about eating goat loads of pasta with chips and I didn’t see a lot of alcohol being consumed.

a bit of our boat

a bit of our boat

Posting this now at Iguomenitsa at four in the morning as the port has free wifi. We have both slept (a bit), but I hear a coffee calling. We’re in Greece. Yippee!

Trulli scrumptious

I don’t think I’ll need too many words today. I have a couple of pictures which, by themselves, will paint more than a thousand words. Alberobello was spectacular. Is it the best thing we’ve seen in Italy, better than, say, Pisa, Tropea, Matera (on a previous tour), parts of Rome, Pasteum, El Bahira campsite (and all those climbing bums), the whole of Florence, Etna from the north and parts of Rome? Possibly. Whatever, with Matera just down the road (a town built into the rocks) and the Paestum temples just a couple of hours away, it’s got to be a good reason to come this far south in Italy.

Hobbitland

Hobbitland

We left the v cold and uninspiring Acquaviva and made our way across country to the local Lidl at Turi. We foraged for a trolley load of stuff only managing to get there after waiting endlessly at two level crossings, wait for it: manually operated by crank handle and notified by bells and telephone. If that doesn’t explain a lot about the Italian economy, then I’m not sure I can elucidate much further.

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the mother of all Trullis

the mother of all Trullis

We parked up in Alberobello in a car park with clear signs that said ‘no campers’. However we are now used to the Italian way so weren’t concerned, knocked up a picnic and wandered off into town looking out for the Trullis. We made it to what we thought was the tourist information centre, but turned out to be a super-sized Trulli that was privately owned, but accessible for a small fee. The inside was interesting enough; what made it special was the Italian lady’s historical brief on our arrival – which imageshe gave in v good English but with such a strong accent that I tuned out and had to get C to brief me later. In short the Trullis are Turkish in origin. It seems that sometime in the sixteenth century some Count or other was awarded the local forest after helping the King defeat bazillions of Saracens. He then turned over the forest to arable farming and with the help of some ex-Turkish POWs asked them to build grain storage in the only way they knew how. The outcome was millions of round stone houses with pointy hats.

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We passed loads on the way in. They are now mostly lovingly restored. Some are used as storage, some as v small dwellings (which probably work well here in southern Italy but would be useless in, say, Holland where everyone is unnecessarily over six foot), and some have been expanded and extended to accommodate normal sized folk. Alberobello has a large wedge of them close to the centre of town. It is hobbit land on a grand scale and absolutely wonderful. Think Cornish cottages with pointy roofs. Without photos I’d have to describe them as boob-like, but then that says more about me than it does your average Trulli.

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We spent a couple of hours wandering around, poking in the corners of this fabulous town. We had lunch in the main square where, against the predictions of a dull, flat day, Mrs Sun had made a guest appearance in second and third acts that made our visit that extra special (we had previously taken coffee in the same square where I managed to post the blog). Not untypically we were joined by a couple of cats who had more of the cold meat for lunch than I did. Oh well, there’s some cat food back in Doris if I get hungry.

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We left Alberobello fully touristed out and headed for the coast and Brindisi – and our, as yet unbooked, boat to Greece. The area was tidy stone wall to stone wall vine, fruit and, we think, nut farming. It all looked v prosperous and well attended. We were unaware how high we still were until we came across the mother of all escarpments looking out over the Adriatic; quite a sight. And to round off a visual feast of a day as we drove along the southeasterly motorway to Brindisi we saw five murmurings of starlings cross from right to left over our heads. These were proper, Somerset Levels affairs, thousands upon thousands of birds moving about in an ever changing splodge of black and grey, touching the ground and then turning and twisting back into the air. To see one on The Levels is special. To see five in a row here was murmurising (do you see what I did there?).

Brindisi harbour

Brindisi harbour

We parked up harbourside in Brindisi and walked what seemed forever along the huge breakwater as darkness fell. Supper was a stir fry affair and we watched one of the DVDs Annie had brought with her. There’s now some discussion about when we travel. We have some stuff to do which we need to get done probably this side of the water, so may pop into the port today and check times and prices. I think we’ll probably be on the ferry tomorrow. Greece. How exciting! (After note – ferry tonight, may be no post tomorrow.)

Doris for the night

Doris for the night

Fascinator 1 – BFIW 0

For those of you expecting another slab of ‘stuff we did’, an abridged version today as we gather ourselves together for an assault on the Big Fat Italian Wedding.

Good news. C has a hat, well sort of. It’s right and proper that ladies wear hats to weddings. It’s tradition, it’s polite and it’s always a struggle. The outfits create angst (“but I wore that to so and so’s party last year, I can’t be wearing it again so soon”), but for C the change of disposition from School to Army friends means that what she is wearing hasn’t been seen by the attendees of the BFIW. However, the hat is a different thing. She just hasn’t got one that will scrunch down to a small enough space to allow for Easyjet travel. And we haven’t been able to find one; certainly not one that is either affordable or inflatable. Until now…

We got up to our last morning at the Caravan Club site in Abbeywood and decided that as we were heading down to Dover to meet with Richard and Caroline (long time Army friends – they met through us; we’re good at that) before we got the flight to Naples, we should pop in to see my brother who lives just off the A2 and who wasn’t at work yesterday. Over coffee (Georgina’s enjoying a week’s leave before disappearing to Leaconsfield and Grace was off school not well) the topic of conversation stumbled across the hat dilemma and both Georgina and Grace fetched ‘fascinators of distinction’. So I take back yesterday’s comment about fascinators are not necessarily for the more mature woman as a neat black one, handed from niece to aunt, seems to be working wonders. I’m sure that’s not the end of the hat saga, but it’s further forward than we were yesterday. And that’s a good thing.

C, Georgina, Grace and fascinator

C, Georgina, Grace and fascinator

We left Kevin’s, stopped for lunch at some motorway service station and arrived at Richard and Caroline’s mid-afternoon. We had booked the hotel (four nights near Brindisi) and flights (Eastjet too and from Nice) what seemed years ago, but only now did we realise that to catch the flight we needed to be up at three in the morning. And, with us on a budget, we have restricted ourselves to one suitcase for wedding clothes and a cabin luggage for the rest. For Richard and I, ex-infanteers and old hands at living with not much, this would be fine. For the girls, not quite so… But C, after some chumfing, managed to squeeze a bath tub into a basin and we are now all travelling ‘lite’.

view from R & C's window last night...

view from R & C’s window last night…

It’s going to be a great break, notwithstanding early starts and the accompanying poor temper that will inevitably take a cup of strong coffee to dissipate. We’ve no idea what the wedding will be like, although Richard and I did discuss the possibility of waking up in the same bed as a horse’s head if we flirt with the bridesmaids. I think it will be v catholic and v long with lots of incense. Whatever it is, I’ll let you know. We have Friday and Sunday to explore and recover, so that will add something as well.

our new method of comms whilst abroad - Jen and Skype

our new method of comms whilst abroad – Jen and Skype

We are, as always, v lucky. And I do hope that comes across in these ramblings.

Posting this now (hopefully) under pressure at Gatwick at oh-goodness-thirty hours.