Paul & Janita's Home Page

Greece

 
12 November

Greece is the beach camping capital of Europe. What else can you do but pull up on an open isolated Aegean beach as the sun goes down, have a few beers, dinner, a good sleep and get up to a clear blue sky and 20C. We have done it for the last 2 nights. So what the heck - we are doing it again tonight just outside Thessaloniki.  

 13 November 

Fishermen are pulling their nets in beside the van so we had better get up. It is 8.00am after all - don't these people have lives? 

On the way to the bin with the morning's rubbish drop, Paul nodded and chatted with the local fishermen as one does on any beach anywhere in the world.

 "Yasu" said he.  

"Do you really believe the Americans landed on the moon or was it just an elaborate television hoax?" one fisherman said (or just as well could have).  

"Yes, I do enjoy fishing. At home it is one of my favourite pastimes!" Paul casually replied. Smiles and wise nods were exchanged and  all went about their business 

 An unnecessary phobia about language seems to exist among travelers - particularly English -speaking travellers. The simple fact is that 80% of the world speaks some English and probably 50% of Europeans speak it well enough to achieve a mutually beneficial outcome. Add to this a small dose of travellers' German and a few words of the local lingo (we always learn the word for "Thank you"), a bit of creative mime and a lot of pointing and the most complicated exchanges become easily achievable. The answer is confidence! 

Television in some countries is a powerful teacher of language. Last night we watched 'While You were Sleeping' in English on Greek television. In smaller markets like Greece, Holland, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, all programs are telecast in their original language with local sub-titles, just as on SBS at home. With this exposure from childhood and the teaching of English in most school systems, it is relatively easy for people to acquire fairly advanced language expertise. The obvious draw back of this process is the American accent that infects most English. The one exception to this rule seems to be in Greece where the infecting inflection is often Australian, due to the large number of returned immigrants and 'six monthers' -  people with dual citizenship who follow the seasons or the work from Australia to Greece.

 14 November

 Wandered about the village of Kalambaka last night, just watching the locals. The town is a major tourist centre 'in season' as the closest town to the monasteries of Meteora.. But now the citizens of Kalambaka have their town back to themselves for a few short months. 

As we sipped our Amstels on the footpath beside the town square, the kids were out in force. Buzzing around the small square on their tiny mopeds, playing football on the lawn (in the dark) and chatting in groups. It was about 7.00pm and it seemed as though this was the usual pre-dinner 'run in the yard'. As we wandered back to the camping grounds the kids were already moving off and leaving the square.

 This  morning the guard had changed. The village 'oldies' were enjoying the strong morning sun and the square was theirs.

Again, with the exception of the passing waves of Japanese bus tours, the town and the monasteries were ours. A couple of American rock climbers and a German couple in a caravan were our only company, seemingly in the whole town. The Americans are on a 12 month trip moving from rock to rock. They are off to Turkey next to climb Cappadocian rocks and were interested in our experiences. The Germans are habitual travellers and are off to Australia and New Zealand next European winter.

Part of the thrill of this sort of travel is the people you meet!

Tonight we are just outside Delphi - ancient home of the famed oracle -  camped on the slopes of Mount Parnassos looking down on the Gulf of Corinth. It's a talent - we just seem to pick the bestest places to wake up to!!!!

15 November

 City driving is getting to be a breeze! Having enjoyed a fine warm morning (20C+) wandering amongst the ruins of Delfoi (local spelling) we hit the road for Athens.

Our planned side excursion to Marathon went a bit astray, but on the positive side we saw a number of village back streets up close! 

Athens is a little smaller than Sydney with a population of about 3.5 million. After Istanbul, driving here was a doddle. The traffic and the driving habits of the locals don't cause us problems now. Hell - we drive like locals! One nano-second delay at the lights elicits a polite beep. One second requires a more severe response. The practiced use of the 'flash' and the 'engine rev' are all part of the sophisticated system of traffic survival on big city European roads. What is a hassle is not knowing where one is or where one is going! 

 Despite these difficulties we have yet again found the needle in the haystack that is 'Camping Athens'. We stayed here 13 years ago and on driving through the gates we recognised it immediately. What has changed however is the quality of the facilities. Three out of the last five nights we have stayed in parks as opposed to 'on the beach'. The facilities in all three were four star! Twelve years ago you were lucky to have a rubbish bin. Now..... ever so nice...even given the fact that Greek sanitary systems don't accommodate toilet paper, therefore you use and then drop into a waste bin which is emptied.... sometime. Details, details...

  Athens opens a new Metro Station which is on our way into town tomorrow. What a challenge. First day in a Greek Metro Station??

 16 November 

Had a quick look at the new Metro but after an equally quick look at the map it was clear that we could easily walk everywhere we wanted to go in the city. Today we decided to just walk about, do a bit of shopping and not play tourist.

 Old habits die hard however and we managed to wander past most of the city sites with the intentional exception of the Acropolis.  

 

Having trod the streets of so many large cities in many different countries in the past couple of months it is becoming clear that with the obvious differences of the main sights, big cities have fairly common characteristics. One starts to wonder whether a big city is more characterised by its 'big cityness' than its national character. How often have we heard people say, " Paris is not France or Rome is not Italy or Istanbul is not Turkey or....... ?? At times Athens fells like Sydney, London, Paris, or any number of other large cities. The traffic, the hustle, the dirt, the pollution, the attitudes of the people seem to have more in common with 'big cities' than with the rest of Greece. And this is probably true of many 'big cities'.

 Back at 'Camping Athens' early in the afternoon we have had an opportunity to clean and wash much as we did at this same park 13 years ago.

 Had dinner with a young couple from Salisbury (Brisbane) who are doing much the same trip as us but in reverse. We were able to share horror stories and some good information that should be useful to us all - a very late night!

17 November 

Big happenings on the streets of Athens today. There was some agitation yesterday from what we thought was the Greek communist party. Heavily armed police were on the streets, but all we saw was a street march by some very 'dangerous' looking pensioners protesting against social security cuts! Today however there were riot squads on almost every corner. After we had visited the Acropolis we checked out the markets and headed back up town. More police had taken up position and many streets were closed. In the distance we saw and heard a large crowd on the move. We headed for the bus stop and home.

We have been unable to work out what happened (if anything?) from the news, but with the exception of some aggravation amongst the crowd at the bus stop (because the bus was 15 seconds late!) everything seemed calm.

In the last couple of months we have become more and more grateful for the laws put in place by most Western countries aimed at limiting pollution. In Eastern Europe particularly, but also in Turkey and Greece, the pollution is palpable - in your eyes throat and nose, in the van's curtains and cupboards - and, more importantly for us, in our perception of what we see -- or can't see. It is a serious problem.

 18 - 19 November

 More than half the trip to go! (like a glass half full!) 

Tonight we are on the Blue Star 2 (Not the White Star line!) on the Adriatic between Greece and Italy. One day people will fly like this. Camping on the deck is the 'In thing' on the Italy - Greece voyages these days. We are in our van on the open lower deck with a view of the sea - including the necessary sunset over the water (can't get enough of them), electricity connection, water connection and toilets. On top of this we have the full facilities of the ship for the 20 hour trip, restaurant, cinema, casino, shops and disco!...  

Yesterday we did a loop through the Peloponnesian Peninsula: Corinth for the canal (astounding for its sheer unexpectedness), Epidaurus for the theatre and Mycenae for the Lion's Gate: wonders of the old and new world! -  spending the night for free (almost) at a camping grounds in Mycenae. The camping was closed, but we had full use of all the facilities for the cost of the electricity (AUS$5).

A quick drive today to Patras for the Ferry. Now! Many of those who know us well would have heard our horror story of our last ferry trip from Patras to Bari... Well we were prepared for the worst, but all that went wrong was that we drove through a storm on the way to Patras. Yes, rain. After 9 weeks we had real rain for an hour or so.

 

We rocked into an agent, prepared to be told that the next ferry was in two days.. But, dare we say it? Luck was again with us. It was 12.30pm and the brand new Blue Star 2 that we could see from the store window was due to leave at 1.00pm. A quick phone call, tickets issued, off to the company office on the wharf for a boarding pass, to customs - no checks required, watched a stowaway being apprehended from under a truck, and  on board inside 40 mins of walking into the agent's office! Modern Greek efficiency - a far cry from 13 years ago!

If you are expecting anything to go badly wrong given the fact that this IS a Greek ferry; forget it. All has gone well - so far! We have had a nice lunch at the very flash cafeteria, watched a movie, (Philadelphia!! with the exciting prospect of Crocodile Dundee to come!!!) lost the obligatory thousands of DRS at the casino and are getting ready for dinner. The ship docks in Brindisi about 10.00pm and then on to Ancona where we are scheduled to arrive at 9.00am tomorrow morning following a long sleep in our own bed! (even if it does roll from side to side!) How cool is that?

[PREVIOUS]  [NEXT]