Homeward Bound

02 August 2018 – 5th August 2018

We had booked our crossing on the Euro Tunnel and needed to get Chloe to the vet for her pet passport check, stamping and worming tablet and to be ripped off by a vet. We stayed overnight in a small village right by a beautiful river but we were baked again by the sun as there was no shade. The next day we set off the find the vet, David being his brilliant self had booked the appointment and googled the area to make sure we could get there with the van. We went strolling in the vets and strolled out again in less than 10 minutes at a cost of €48, the dearest to date. We should ask the cost when we book but we never do !. It was no surprise at these prices that the vets was closing for a 2 week holiday after we left.

We found a pretty place to stop for a couple of days by a lake to recover from the vet’s fee and we were in complete shade so as the temperature was hitting 37 degrees we were able to cope. As we left to continued our travels North David suddenly said a ‘I fancy a McDonalds’. I said, if you could have one what would you have and he reeled off his Big Mac, Fries and a Milkshake. I said, that to be honest I was all baguette out and I quite fancy a cheeseburger myself ! Then out of the blue as if our prayers had been answered on the side of an old building I saw an advertisement for a McDonald’s, 7km away. We trundled on trying to remember the last time we had eaten a McDonald’s. Suddenly on the roundabout and being able to park close by we had our first burger in over 8 months, so we didn’t feel too bad !

As we continued North the weather was cooling and it was lovely to be honest. We stayed close by the Euro Tunnel on our last night as we had an early crossing in the morning. We have learnt to time our crossing now all about when we hit the M25 in the U.K. as we can travel thousands of miles across Europe and never have a hold up and then you suddenly hit the M25 and you are in the longest queue know to man.

Time now to see as many family and friends as we can fit in. To get dressed up for my cousin’s Wedding, to hug another cousin tightly who is fighting a big health battle and to complete the dreaded tax return.

To say we have had an amazing time on this part of our adventure is an understatement. Greece took our hearts and we met some special people who have become life long friends. The Motorhome has become our home and we are so, very, very lucky to have the chance to experience this amazing life. We will be back in afew weeks, this time chasing the sun and looking for pitches with no shade !

Pont De Vaux & Beaune – France

18th July 2018 – 01st August 2018

We left the French celebrating winning the World Cup and the hordes of people in Anncey for the Tour de France and headed North. This is new territory for us as we have never covered this part of France. We are the lucky ones where we have all the time to meander and are not on a time scale. Our destination is never really planned we just decide to drive for afew hours and look for somewhere to stay. It is getting a lot busier with the start of the school holidays and we have never travelled before during this time. It is something we have always avoided. The price of the campsites nearly double and the popular ones with children’s activities, swimming pools etc are ones we try to avoid. We arrived at Pont De Vaux in the Bourgogne region, having found that there was a municipal swimming pool right next door to the campsite and lots of children. Just what I said we try to avoid. Access was free for swimming pool if you were staying at the campsite which we thought was great, did we use it ? No. We are so lazy, or our excuse is that the pool was full of children ! A short walk brought you into the town and with most French towns, you try not to expect a great deal, just a bolangarie and another couple of shops if you are lucky. Well, Pont de Vaux was a pleasant surprise with afew more shops, bars and restaurants and wait for it a Beautician. Well the excitement and only if you are female will you understand how I felt. It had been over 4 months since I had last had my legs waxed and I was always on the look out for somewhere that would make them smooth again. The lady tried to book me in and in my limited french an appointment was made for the following day Wednesday. Did I want her to write it down, ‘Oh No’ I said. After waiting this long I wasn’t going to forget the day and time. Now Wednesday in Pont De Vaux is the hi-light of the week with the market and it was huge. The French must come from miles to visit as it was packed. It is such a shame that in the UK the markets have died. In France there are no Primark or discount stores and we think this has helped to keep the markets a focal point of towns. There was everything for sale, food, clothes, shoes, haberdashery and furniture. We saw a massive queue for a cheese stall and I said to David, look at that it must be special cheese and made him join the queue. The man in front bought 2 massive chunks of this cheese costing him €25.00 but he didn’t bat an eyelid. We bought a small piece for £8.00 and still choked. The cheese is called Comte made from unpasteurised cows milk and around 64,000 tonnes are produced annually. The cheese is made in discs, each between 40cm and 70cm in diameter, weighing up to 50kg. It is made from milk of Montbeliarde or French Simmental cows and no more than 1.3 cows per hectare of pasture. Each cheese is scored out of 20 by inspectors and if it scores below 12 it is prohibited from being named Comte and is sold for other purposes. You can see why there was a massive queue for this cheese now. Anyway, time to get my legs waxed, I went bowling into the Beautians only to find out I had the right day but the wrong week. Will I ever get my legs waxed ! They were so lovely once again and obviously saw how desperate I was and squeezed me in the next day.

After finally having smooth legs once again, oh the joy. We head to Beaune the wine capital of Burgundy. The town is surrounded by some of the world’s most famous wine villages. We had visited Beaune with my Mum and Dad over 15 years ago and driving through the hectares of vines as far as the eye could see I wish he was with us to share it with him, Dad loved his wine. We stayed just outside Beaune in a beautiful village Savigny-lès-Beaune, a 30 minute cycle ride took us into Beaune centre. Whilst we were here we thought we would try out a wine tasting session, with a little research David booked La Cave de l’Ange Gardien. We cycled into Beaune after having a big lunch to soak up all the wine we would be having. Pierre the owner greeted us and with a table of 6 other English our tasting begun. It was a blind tasting which was excellent. Pierre’s passion for the industry, the wines and his knowledge made it such a wonderful experience. Having tried 5 white wines, 5 red wines, 2 sparkling wines and finally a cassis. I was pissed ! And we had to cycle home. There is certainly no obligation to purchase any but we filled David’s Panniers and he was under strict instruction not to break any bottles. You cannot come to Beaune without visiting the Hospices de Beaune or Hotel Dieu de Beaune. It was founded in 1443 as a hospital for the poor and is one of the finest examples of French 15th Century Architecture. It is an amazing place to visit and it’s polychrome roof is absolutely stunning. We also spent a day cycling through the vineyards and into the famous wine villages of Pommard, Volnay and Meursault. In the village where we were staying is the Musees du Chateau de Savigny-lès-Beaune, it houses a fascinating private display of planes, cars, motorcycles and all things transportation. David visited and even saw a Gloster Meteor a plane that his Dad had worked on as an engineer in the Air Force. After 11 days we decided we needed to start heading North, with temperatures in the mid 30 degrees and set to rise even further, we were hot in the van. I wish they made human cooling mats like they do for dogs !

Mont Blanc & Annecy – France

15th July 2018 – 18th July 2018

We have been so lucky to have experienced some wonderful countries, people and cultures since we first begun our ‘Once in a Lifetime’ adventure. But the greatest moment to date was experienced just as we came into France. As we left Italy, David was itching to drive through the Mont Blanc tunnel and although it cost an eye watering €59.80, we drove through. Not as long as we thought, all of 11.611km and the actual road was shocking, worse than some of the Italian roads and that’s saying something ! With all the toll fees we would have expected the smoothest road ever !.

Our destination was a campsite just outside Chamonix, but as we were following our ‘Snooper’ Sat Nav which knows our size and weight of the van, it brought us to a bridge under a railway line that was too tight to get through. Not all that good after all ! The roads in this part of France are very small and very windy and we decided to park for the evening in Chamonix itself, as there are dedicated areas for Motorhomes. Now Chamonix is in it’s self an eye opener. It contains the most fit people we have ever seen in our lives, not an ounce of fat on them, all kitted out in their hiking gear. God, did we feel out of place. Obviously because of where it is, it is busy all year round and the Main Street is filled with hiking shops selling all the gear you would need to climb Mont Blanc. Unfortunately they didn’t sell new bodies which David & I would need and so we just window shopped. It is very beautiful and with the back drop of Mont Blanc you can see why people flock here. It is a sight to behold. After reading up about getting the cable car to the top of Mont Blanc as we were obviously not climbing it, we decided to get the cable car early the next morning to beat the crowds. We set the alarm and arrived at the cable car station for 07.00am. No queues, still all fit climbers with their ropes and clips, snow picks and snow shoes dangling off their rucksacks and David and I wrapped up in our winter clothes as the temperature can be a lot lower at the top of Mont Blanc. We packed into the cable car and we were off. It takes over 10 minutes to reach the first stage, Aiguille Du Midi, we were climbing and climbing and I can’t tell you the excitement, until the cable car suddenly seemed to drop and then climb again. Not sure why but it’s a long way down ! My heart jumped but I tried to remain cool, trying not to embarrass myself in front of the fit crowd. We made it to the first stage and we left the cable car to get the next to the top, another 10 minutes The view from Aiguille Du Midi at 3842M was amazing but when we finally reached the summit at 12,392ft, above the seracs, the Pelerins glacier and the hanging glaciers on the north face of the Aiguille du Midi, the view took our breathe away. It is such the most wonderful sight to see, how lucky were we to be standing there looking out at our most beautiful world. Words cannot describe the beauty. If you are not afraid of heights, try and get here in your lifetime because you will remember it as long as you live. We stayed for 2 hours in all and we did notice due to the altitude that we were slightly light headed and breathless, I bet the fit people weren’t. We had our photos taken in the glass box that overhangs the edge and then descended down the two cable cars to the bottom, just as the queues were beginning to build. For the rest of the day I had the biggest smile on my face, wow what a day to remember.

Our next destination was Anncey, the largest city in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. It lies on the northern tip of Lake Annecy. It is nicknamed the ‘Pearl of the French Alps’ with it’s location between lakes and mountains and sometimes also known as ‘Venice of the Alps’ a tourist representation which comes from the three canals and the river Thiou lying through the old city. It is a tourism paradise with the turquoise lake providing boating, swimming and anything water with the wonderful city to meander in. We stayed at the South end of the lake and spent a couple of nights. However, we timed it completely wrong as the “Tour de France’ was having a rest day in Anncey and it was absolutely heaving. We cycled the hour’s ride into the city along the cycle route and I quite like to meander along at my own pace, but I felt like I was in the Tour de France with cyclists whizzing past and it felt like I was on the M25 in rush hour. Not very pleasant at all. Anncey is stunning and I can fully understand why people descend on this beautiful city and lake for their summer vacations. We have been told that it is busy all year round but it is somewhere on our list to return out of season, so that we can really appreciate the beauty and also to paraglide off the cliff ! Whilst we were staying at the Campsite we met Antoine, his wife Ruth and their daughter who were from Malta. They are such a lovely family and they holiday in the mountains each year in their motorhome, Antoine was saying that there are no mountains in Malta and so that’s why they love them. As they left we were given a packet of traditional biscuits from Malta by Antoine. I wish I had some M&S biscuits to give them in return.

Lucca – Italy

13th July 2018 – 14th July 2018

We continued North on the west side of Italy with a destination of Lucca. Our friends Nicola & her husband Phil recommended us to visit after they had been there in May and as Nicola knows me so well, I knew it was a place that we could not miss. We stayed once again just outside, a 30 minute walk in to the centre. We decided to walk in later in the day, leaving Chloe snoozing in the van. In 1805 Lucca was conquered by Napoleon, who then installed his sister Elisa Bonaparte as ‘Princess of Lucca’. The walls encircling the old town remain intact and once they lost their military importance they became a pedestrian promenade. Lucca is also the birthplace of Puccini born in 1858 and composing the great ‘La Boheme’, ‘Tosha’ and ‘Madame Butterfly’. Now we loved Lucca, it had a great feel about it and we both said that it was the best of all the towns in Tuscany that we had visited. It wasn’t so overcrowded, it had the most wonderful of shops (me of course loving this part the most !) and I had to refrain myself, as I could left laden with bags of things that I don’t really need. We enjoyed a lovely meal and David was a little gutted because the next evening Roger Waters was playing in the town. We tried to get tickets but they were an extortionate price and therefore the next day we departed. Before we departed the campsite I owed the owners €5. The cost for staying the night was €25 but when we arrived I did not have the correct money and for some strange reason they said they did not have change. Which I thought was rather odd as you could only pay cash (Italians love cash) and I am sure some people gave then the correct money. Anyway, I said I would pay the next day. As we go to leave I forgot to get the €5 and went up to the office and a different Italian this time and grumpy, said he had no change. So I said, what should I do, he shrugged his shoulders said you will have to walk to the village to get change and turned his back on me. I was hot enough with the heat, menopause onset, and this was the tipping point for me boiling over. I went back to the van, explained to David, I thought I was going to have a seizure I was so angry. We tried to find coins to make up the €5 and I have a purse with all very small coins, we counted them out but we were still short. Time ticking and we wanted to leave I stormed off walking into the village. Faith was resorted for the Italian race in the bakers with two lovely ladies and I did find an amazing butchers. On my way back I see David sitting in the Motorhome outside the campsite. He said that he had found the last coins we needed, drove up to the exit and said to stroppy Italian ‘we owe you €5, here it is’ and dropped a huge handful of the smallest coin denominations on the counter. At least a small amount of satisfaction and a bad review given to the site, made me feel a little better.

Goodbye Italy, some Italians need to work on their manners but the country stole our hearts with the foods, the Tuscan towns and villages and the stunning countryside. Now off to France to find a baguette!

Beautiful Tuscany

06th July 2018 – 12th July 2018

We left Pompeii and headed North into what people say is the most beautiful part of Italy, Tuscany. We have covered many parts of France but very little of Italy and friends have always said to us that we would love it and how right they were. Tuscany is like looking at a Masters painting, the scenery takes your breathe away and the villages are truly stunning. We stayed in a great location near Sienna, right in the forest surrounded by trees and plenty of shade and although the temperature was in the mid 30 degrees, we were coping quite well. As there was so much to explore in the area and the small winding roads were not Motorhome friendly we did get to hire a car for a week and it was just over the price of a day’s hire, that the tight fitting jean Italian in Pompeii quoted us.! To collect the car we needed to get two buses, one into Sienna and then change to another to take us out into the suburbs to collect the car. The great thing was the bus came right into the campsite to collect us and dropped us into the centre of Siena, easy ! The next bus we needed, a number 05 wasn’t so easy to locate. At last, after a kind Italian lady told us where it stopped, we waited and duly got on the bus only to find that it was going in completely the wrong direction ! We thought we may as well do the whole route and knew we would eventually get to where we needed to go. It was great people watching, a bus full of older ladies, laden down with their shopping, I did wonder where all the men were. We saw the suburbs of Siena, returned to the centre of Sienna where we had got on the bus and then at last we were heading in the right direction and with the wonder of google maps we got off at the right place and collected our little Lancia sewing machine. I must say I love these little cars, perfect size for 2 humans and a dog and a real treat after driving the Motorhome. What the car also allowed us to do was get my ear sorted out which had been giving me problems since Spain, all of 4 months ago. We first visited the pharmacy in the village and after telling them I needed to see a Doctor they drew me a map of the house that the Doctor lived in. When we eventually found it, I said to David, I am not going in there ! The shutters were falling off, it looked as if the property was derelict. I had visions of coming out with my ear worse than when I went in. We then popped into the small Tourist Office in the village of Sovicille and the young woman said, no, no, no, you do not go to the village Doctor he is for the grandfathers of the village and everything takes soooo long ! Go to the emergency department of the hospital in Sienna. We thought that was a bit drastic but after leaving it for another day, we decided that we had no option. We found the hospital and where we needed to go and gingerly we went into what we know as A&E. We had visions of a 4-5 hour wait with 50 other people but as we walked in there were 3 people waiting. We explained the problem and were told to wait, we were then taken into the emergency area and then finally escorted to what must have been the non emergency area to see a Doctor. I cannot express how wonderful the service was, the young Italian who was escorting everyone into the rooms, making us laugh with his English and keeping everyone in the room entertained. The young Doctor who I saw finally syringed my ear and I could have kissed him. (So could David I think will all my moaning I had given him over my ear !) 90 minutes after arriving, we were back in the car.

With my new found ear freedom, we explored the area. Beautiful Siena with it’s stunning Cathedral and the Piazza del Campo, the shell shaped square. This is part of the site for the famous Palio horse race, which is held twice a year and was being held whilst we were there. Ten horses and riders barebacked and dressed in their appropriate colours, represent 10 of the seventeen city wards, or councils to you and me. They circle the Piazza de Campo three times and it lasts for no more than 90 seconds and it is not unusual to see unmounted horses finishing the race without their jockeys. Thousands of spectators descend on the square and you have to get there very early to have a chance of seeing it. We had no chance, so just looked in the windows the next day to see all the photos of it ! Siena is one of the most visited Italian tourist attractions and it was very, very busy even when we visited in the early evening. Not very Italian but excitement ensued when we stumbled on a Chinese Restaurant and after 6 months without a Chinese, dinner was sorted.

We visited the famous town of San Gimignano, stunning but heaving with tourists (yes I know we are tourists !) and Volterra which with less tourists we loved more. To add to the visit of Volterra, there in the main square were the most beautiful vintage cars that were obviously on a rally. Original Fiat 500, Mercedes and MGs. These beautiful towns are best enjoyed just wandering the small streets that wind their way around and just enjoy turning the corners and seeing the most beautiful of vistas.

There are times in your life that you will always remember and for us, driving along to San Gimignano and stopping at a small restaurant that had a view to die for, looking over the rolling Tuscan countryside, filled with vines as far as the eye could see. I ate the best Ravioli I have ever tasted in my life with a delicious apricot tart to finish, washed done with some nice vino and an espresso. Pure Bliss !

We were told by the young lady in the Tourist office to visit Torre as there was a Monastery there which she said was beautiful. It only opens for 6 hours a week, so we had to get our timings right.

It was a beautifully preserved sanctuary and so well worth the visit. In Tuscany, you can just drive around the beautiful countryside and stop at the smallest of villages but they all reveal a hidden jewel.

We stayed 9 nights in total at the campsite and whilst we were there we met a lovely family from Bruges, Joost & Veronique with their son, who were on their 3 weeks holiday in their vintage caravan. It was amazing, still in perfect condition since new and very much loved. We spent a couple of evenings in their company and the greatest joy of our journey is meeting people like them. They were fascinating, we found our lives had taken a similar journey on one occasion and to spend time with them and talk was lovely.

After being on the road for 10 months now, I have found David to be the most relaxed he has ever been. We were sitting at dinner one night and out of the blue he says ‘ I am really worried that the jar of mustard in the fridge should be thrown away, it has been open for too long’ I thought to myself, if that’s his main worry right now, life is very good. The jar of mustard went in the bin !

Matera & Pompeii – Italy

30th June 2018 – 05th July 2018

We left Greece after a confusing border control. David drove the Motorhome through with Chloe, but I could not be in the Motorhome with him and was told by a strict Greek official that I had to go through Customs in an adjoining building. I had visions of David and Chloe sailing away without me ! The up side, there was Duty Free in the building, YES shops ! The sailing was a little rough and although we tried to sleep it was not as calm a sea as we had when we sailed into Greece. We arrived in Bari early morning and on the recommendation of a couple we met in Greece we headed for Matera. Our visit to Matera was made more special by the campsite owner Gian Franco who shuttled all the people at the campsite into the centre of Matera. He had such a passion for his city, a UNESCO World Heritage site and declared European Capital of Culture 2019. It is also known as the Subterranean City and is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It looks like a film set, just stunning. The city has seen many film crews here, the making of Ancient Jerusalem, Ben-Hur, The Omen and Wonder Woman, to name just afew. It is filled with many churches and monasteries, the beauty though is just wandering the streets, immersing yourself in the culture, gloating in all the beautiful shop windows that display the most beautiful of foods, clothes and regional crafts. We ate the best Gelato and typical us, our eyes were bigger than our bellies and I couldn’t eat all of mine ! Each year in Matera the famous Festa Della Bruno takes place and it was only afew days away. Although the festival is in honour of the town’s sacred protector, the Madonna Della Bruna, it is far from being a purely religious event. Tens of thousands of local people flock onto the streets, with a week of celebrations with coloured light displays, market stalls, town bands and grand processions. The main drama takes place on the 2nd July with a procession in the evening, of the Madonna Della Bruna carried on a float or triumphal chariot which has been lovingly handmade in paper mache. A real work of art, decorated with ornaments and statues. Once it has reached it’s destination the Madonna Della Bruna is lifted off and escorted to the church and then the float is no longer seen as holy and then that’s when the fun starts. There is a massive free for all of all the spectators who pull the chariot apart to gain a piece as a trophy. Gain Franco, the owner of the Campsite took us to see the chariot that had been made for this year’s procession and it was amazing. The paintings that had been created were stunning. It was a shame we were not there see the whole festivities. It’s in the diary for next year to try and visit on the 2nd July.

After 3 days we head off to Pompeii. We stayed right outside the gates in a campsite which was the perfect location but very little shade. It’s all about the shade in the summer !. We also wanted to visited the Amalfi Coast whilst we were here. We have seen so many stunning pictures and TV programmes with this coastline that we too wanted to experience it’s splendour, in a little car. We knew that our Motorhome was a no go for this area, I think cars find it difficult in some places and so we walked into Pompeii centre to the train station and the Hertz Rental. We tell the young suave Italian, in the tightest trousers I have ever seen on a human, that we would like to hire a car for the day. He tries to rent us the flashiest convertible car (not in our budget !) and eventually when he finally realises we only want a small car he says €100 for the day. Too expensive we say, he shrugs his shoulders and walks off. By this time I am boiling, not just from the 35 degree heat, but for the Italian just trying to rip us off. We never got to see the Amalfi coast ! There is a train service that would take us there but we have Chloe and as we have said before, we worry about leaving her for too long, taking her out in the heat for too long and so we will save the Amalfi Coast for another trip.

We visited Pompeii in the late afternoon and we were blown away with the amazing city before our eyes. The city was destroyed by Mount Vesuvius in AD79 and is quite rightly a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The preservation of the buildings, paintings, mosaics and structures gives you the feeling that you are walking in AD79. You could spend the whole day wandering the streets taking in the amazing sights from the ground surface which has small white square tiles called cat’s eyes, which the moon or candlelight illuminated so people could see where they were walking at night. The huge number of clay pots found intact, the track marks for the carriages for a smoother ride. The rich colours of the wall paintings and mosaic floors still intact. However, it is tinged with sadness as the whole city was destroyed. We both found it very humbling for over 1,900 years later to walk the same streets.

Meteora, Parga & Goodbye to Greece.

27th June 2018 – 29th June 2018

It was with a heavy heart that we started to make our drive west back to Ingoumenitsa where our Greek odyssey first started. On the way inland we stopped a couple of days at Meteora, which had been on our list to visit in Greece. The Meteora Monasteries rise in the centre of Greece where the Pinios river emerges from the deep canyons of the Pindus range. These gigantic rocks etched by time in a variety of shapes; great stalagmites rising towards the sky. The Monasteries with their wooden galleries and corniced rooftops, crown the summits of these formidable pinnacles. They we built 600 years ago by Byzantine monks to worship God, how they were built on these virtually inaccessible rocks is amazing. We stayed in the nearest village Kalambaka and decided to cycle the next day to the Monasteries, YES I did say cycle ! Our main concern every time we do something is Chloe and leaving her in the van. Therefore we set our alarm for a 06.45am wake up. David said he couldn’t remember the last time we got up so early. We thought we would cycle to the largest and most important of the Monasteries first The Great Meteoron. In older days the ascent to the Monastery was made by joined ladders and nets of baskets. Luckily now, one goes up a flight of 115 steps albeit irregular stairs cut into the rock face. Part of the reason to go early other than our concern for Chloe was the hordes of Japanese tourists that we learnt descend on the Monasteries by the coach load. We set off with plenty of water and luckily a slightly cloudy sky, David navigating with google maps. Suddenly, we start riding on a track and I have this vision of a shut gate at the other end as in Spain. No shut gate but the track turned into a 1:10 and there was no cycling just pushing our bikes up through huge rocks. Sweat pouring off me by the time I reached the end of the track, David says ‘maybe we should stick to the roads from now on’ ! Thank God for that I thought. I was also gutted as I lost my ‘Fitbit’ on the track. Anyway, we continued our climb on the nice smooth road and reached the first Great Meteoron just before 08.30am. Not a Japanese tourist in sight. Happy days I thought, unfortunately, our happiness soon evaporated as we saw the first coach come up the road, followed by another, then another and so it went on. By the time The Great Meteoron opened at 9am, there were 5 coaches of tourists. We made our way up the steps to the Monastery changing into trousers and me covering my shoulders as per the dress code and made our way in. It is lovely inside with the many valuable works of art, fine frescoes, rare books and intricate twelve sided dome. But unfortunately there were just too many people which spoilt it for us. We visited one other of the Monasteries as David said I am only doing 2 ! But to be honest, their beauty to us was in the landscape that they sat in. By cycling, this gave us the perfect vista and for us the best of Meteora.

We then made our way to Parga, which was quite a shock for us. The holiday season was upon us and the area was busy with people on their annual holidays. It certainly made us feel how lucky we were. We caught the ferry around the bay into the town of Parga and had our first Gyros Pita and OMG it was delicious. A pitta type bread filled with shredded pork, yoghurt, healthy salad and chips ! We needed our afternoon quiet time after we had finished. It’s quite funny but in most campsites they have quiet time posters up saying no noise between 3-5pm and then after 11pm. Fine by us, always ready for a little snooze in the afternoon.

We wild camped for our last two night in Greece in a lovely spot by the sea. We just wanted to be by the sea again, so Chloe could have her last swim and for us to remember the beauty of Greece. Here I fed some stray dogs which bought tears to my eyes on how they ravished the food and I could have bought a litter of kittens back as well. We ate our last Greek meal looking out of the beautiful sea and then headed off to catch our ferry back to Bari Italy at 0.30am.

If you ever get the chance to visit mainland Greece you will not be disappointed. It is a beautiful country and unlike the Greek Islands which are geared up solely for tourists, you get the real Greece on the Mainland. It is beautiful, the Greek people are very welcoming, the sea is just the best for swimming in and we all loved it. Thank you Greece for such an amazing adventure.

Kala Nera – Greece

12th June 2018 – 20th June 2018

Our final most Easterly destination in Greece is Kala Nera. When you look on the map it doesn’t seem so far but the Greek winding roads tell another story and we broke up the journey staying in a small campsite in the middle of nowhere called Venezuela. This site was like wildlife on one. David went to use to loo when we got there and comes back saying ‘there’s a frog in the toilet’ I raise my eyebrows and think, I have gone from the 5 star Baglinoni in Kensington to a campsite sharing the loo with a frog ! The elderly owners were lovely, the Greek people seem to love the British and they waved their greetings as we passed them each day. We stayed 2 nights and when walking Chloe one evening we saw the most beautiful little tawny owl sitting above our Motorhome. As we left the owner, so grateful that we had visited, kissed my hand as farewell and I felt tears spring into my eyes. Such kind and genuine people.

The next two weeks were spent in the Pelion, at Kala Nera. It is the perfect destination and this is the place that will forever hold a special place in our hearts for the memories. We caught the bus into Volos, costing all of €1.80 for a 30 minute journey. A bustling town that we wandered around and found, wait for it, an M&S ! Yes, the excitement. Now it was the smallest M&S that I had every been in, but we filled our rucksack with biscuits and jelly babies, as if we needed them and David kitted himself out with a new pair of shorts. On the way back on the bus I spotted a fish shop which I noted for us to return to on our bikes. In Greece, you shop in butchers, bakers, the fish shop, fruit and veg shop and little mini markets. None of this, everything under one roof Tesco here. The next day we decided to cycle to the fish shop, David said it would take 30 minutes. Luckily we are now acclimatised to the heat and set off. It was totally worth the ride, fresh wild prawns and some fresh whole fish. We stopped at the bakers who sold us the best apple cake we have tasted and 6 eggs that were packaged in a paper bag. I had to ride very carefully on the way home with them in my rucksack.

Our two week stay was made special by the arrival of Ian, Patsy and Wilfred, who we met in Nafpilon. We had dinner together in Kala Nera with Ouzo as a starter and a lovely fruit wine for dessert. Ian was also the greatest bread delivery man, popping to the lovely bakers down the road in his car and delivering our bread to our door.

We also cycled along the coast to Afissos through the countryside being followed by beautiful butterflies and the most turquoise of dragon flies. On the way home we popped into the butchers and left with a lovely leg of lamb and some freshly ground mince. I can’t remember the last time I actually bought beef that was minced in front of me.

Within walking distance of where we stayed, was a long pebble beach that was near deserted most days and the three of us would spend the afternoons trying to keep cool in the shade and swimming in the sea. David took his hammock and set it up shading himself between two olive trees. We have never seen Chloe swim as much as she did here. You have to throw the ball and she swims out, retrieves the ball and this goes on until she is exhausted. For a dog that is nearly 12 years old it is a joy to see. She will miss the sea when we leave and so will we. On the last day we all went to the beach for our last swim together and the sea was so flat, we had the most wonderful time. A memory to last a lifetime.

Nafpilon, Poros Island & Epidaurus – Greece

29th May 2018 – 11th June 2018

We broke up the journey to Nafpilon stopping for afew days at Mavrovouni. The first evening we walked along the beach and came to an interesting restaurant, the traditional Greek music playing and twinkling lights drew us in. ( well me !) We sat down; now the Greeks take everything at a slow pace and eventually the owner wandered over, welcomed us and we asked for a menu. No menu he replied and reeled off the starters that were available, we said that we only wanted a main course and he said he would bring us drinks and then take us to the kitchen to show us what food was available. Strange we thought, well as the night drew on and we were starving we got up from the table to walk to the kitchen. The owner came over and said, no, no, no, you have to wait your turn. I will come and get you when you can visit the kitchen. We wish we had ignored the Greek music by then and eaten somewhere else. Finally, we were escorted to the kitchen and there in tiniest of spaces with a single oven was his wife, all hot and flustered, opening pans and the oven door showing us what was on offer to eat. This was a first, we chose our dishes and returned to our table. The food followed and it was delicious. We do wonder what they do if they run out of food, the poor wife can only cook so much in the kitchen. It was certainly a unique experience. The next evening we cycled into the town, again me using turbo power and David on pedal mode only. Destination was the pharmacy for drops for my continuing ear ache. We also found the most amazing shop selling all the delicacies of Greece. What we do love are sesame seed bars in honey, which must be so fattening and they made them in this shop. Several bars later, a massive box of turkish delight and some healthy dried apricots safely in our pannions we look for somewhere to eat. We found a small taverna on a roundabout and had Tapas. There was a Greek couple behind us and we basically ordered what they were eating as it looked delicious and it was. There was another little heart breaker too, a lovely old dog who we think was going blind just sitting begging for food. The restaurant owner said that it had been around for several days, it did look well cared for and a collar attached but I said to David that it had probably been dumped. We fed it fresh squid which it loved and left it with a full belly.

We finally arrived in Nafpilon and decided to hire a car for a week to explore more. Our lovely little Citron V1 Sewing Machine was perfect, we felt like holiday makers ! Nafpilon is one of the loveliest towns we have found on mainland Greece, it has lovely shops, a fantastic market and more coffee bars than London we think. The Greeks love a coffee bar, more that us Brits, at least there are no Costa or Starbucks to ruin the independent ones. It is also a port that the cruise liners stop off and all the small trinket shops via for the attention of the tourists to part with their money and buy anything from worry beads to leather sandals. We explored further South of Nafpilon and were recommended to visit Poros Island. We took Chloe and set off over the mountains only to find that we needed fuel, it was Sunday and even David looked worried as we passed first one, then two garages that were shut. Finally, BP saved the day and we refuelled and arrived in Galatas, to take the ferry costing all of €1 each and the dog went free. It is a haven of yachting and all things boats and we wandered around the harbour looking at all the amazing yachts and wondering who owned them. The coast road on the way back is stunning, hugging the side of the mountain with the beautiful flowering pink & white escallonia shrubs. On the way back instead of the story of the chicken crossing the road, it was the tortoise. We slowed down as the tortoise made his way across the road and as we passed and turned the bend, David saw a car approaching the other way. Trying to save the tortoise life David flashed his lights and waved frantically at the driver to slow down. God knows what he thought must be round the bend and if he saw the tortoise, he probably thought we were mad ! Hopefully he lived to tell another tale.

We also visited Epidaurus, the most celebrated healing centre of the Classical World. People went there in the hope of being cured from their ailments. It is fascinating, even for me, but I think some of it was the gorgeous tutor explaining all about Epidaurus that I tagged onto and swooned over his voice. The theatre is amazing, seating 14,000 spectators and still used today and admired for it’s exceptional acoustics. Although we didn’t test it, if you stand centre stage and light a match, you can hear it from all the stands.

Our time near Nafpilon was nearing it’s end and as always we stayed longer than we thought we would. Part of reason was the lovely couple who we had pitched up next to when we arrived, Patsy and Ian and their gorgeous dog Wilfred. We spent a couple of great evenings sitting drinking some good and not so good Greek wine and this is what is so magical about this ‘Once in a Lifetime Journey’, meeting people, sharing a glass or two of wine and laughing.

Kalamata & Diros Caves – Greece

21st May 2018 – 26th May 2018

Our next destination through our tour of The Peloponnesus is Kalamata. A large town which makes me think ‘shops’ and oh yes there were. We stayed right on the marina, these are always great places to stay as there is always something going on. We met a mad Dutchman who had his yacht parked up right next to us. In the space of 5 minutes we found out that he lived in Athens, been married for two years but his wife had thrown him out, for the 7th time and he was living on his yacht for the time being with his most amazing cat.

We met up for drinks with Simon & Helen in the evening which was lovely. The next day we went to explore, leaving Chloe resting in the van. Explore, I mean hitting the shops and I only went and found a Zara ! Yes, Zara ! . Not very big but a lovely pair of trousers were purchased. I must add though that David did quite a lot of shopping of his own. New shoes, T Shirts and Swimwear. A nice lunch and a look round the park on the way back, that must have been the old railway station at some point, as it had some amazing old trains, which were quite fascinating and could have been in a film set. The next day we waved goodbye to the mad Dutchman as we headed off, passing through Kardamyli which is a gorgeous little village, a little tourist destination with lovely shops and tavernas and we stop for the night in Agios Nikolaos. It is a small fishing port with tavernas and bars hugging the shoreline and the best waffle shop in the world. Do a detour if you are ever near it ! After a great night’s sleep full of chocolate and nut waffles, we head off to wild camp near Diros Caves. David looks on google maps to check out the roads first but with another look of panic and ‘we’re not going down there’ from me, he checks out the road on foot as we near our destination and says that it should be OK. We head down and find several other vans parked right on the most beautiful pebble beach. There was another resident stray dog, quite large but so friendly. Luckily it looked quite healthy and took a shine to our van or maybe it was Chloe and sat next to us in the shade. She would curl up in the road at night and sleep. A water container seems to be regularly filled by people with Motorhomes which is good.

We chilled out for a couple of days and on the last day we walked over to the Diros Caves, know as nature’s underground Cathedral and luckily not far up and over the hill side. Now I don’t know why, but whenever David and I have to get in a boat with other people we always draw the short straw. The boat seats 8 people but because our Greek fellow passengers were so large (David says at least 20 stone each), two of them has a double seat to themselves. Anyway, we set off with the top of the boat very close to the water. The caves are well worth visiting, but the Greeks didn’t stop talking and when one moved we all moved and were on the verge of capsizing. I couldn’t contain the fit of giggles and even the Greek man steering the boat who didn’t speak any English obviously knew I was laughing at our fellow passengers and joined in. The caves have dramatic and beautiful formations of stalactites and stalagmites formed millions of years ago when the sea started to rise. The vast caverns stretch 15km into the rock and the 40 minute boat ride gave us a taster of this natural wonder. Even though David said their electrics lighting up the caves was a disaster waiting to happen !. On the walk back we saw our first wild tortoise walking along the path. I was so excited, I love tortoises. We had one as a child called Fred with his name painted on his shell, although we don’t think he liked living with us as he was always walking off into our neighbours gardens. As we got back to the van, Chloe greeted as, if we had been gone years rather than 2 hours and we packed up to headed off to Nafpilon.