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.

Into the Pelponnesse

01st May 2018 – 20th May 2018

We arrived at Olympia in the early afternoon and decided to wait until later in the day to go to the Ancient site when the weather had cooled and it would not be too hot for Chloe. Guess what, no dogs allowed ! We therefore found a campsite for the night situated up into the hills. Everywhere seems to be up and down a mountain in Greece with me hanging on for dear life and David all calm and collective. The first Olympic festival was organised on the ancient site in the 8th Century. The simple track with it’s stadium was constructed and today, it seems the most important thing to do is run the track. Tourists of all shapes, sizes and levels of fitness including myself thought we were Olympians for the duration of our run and videos and photos were taken to remember our moments of glory. It is an amazing site and the museum houses some precious artefacts, including beautiful carved offerings found in the burial sites. It amazes me how they carved such intricate pieces so many years ago. We then head off and stopped for a couple of nights right on the beach and meet up with Tony and Denise who we met previously earlier in our Greek Odyssey. We have dinner together at the local taverna and the owners are special people in our eyes as they take in the stray dogs, of which there are a huge amount in Greece and are a problem. As we are eating a beautiful dog slides under the table. He name is Emma and she was abandoned outside their restaurant and today she had been to the vet to be spaded. She was the most beautiful dog and if we didn’t have Chloe I think we would have given her a home. The owner’s daughter tells us that she has 10 dogs already and is unable to take anymore. Emma will go to the rescue centre to hopefully find a loving home. As we leave the next day I have to shut my eyes as we pass the taverna as I cannot see Emma and the thought of leaving her behind. Our next destination is the town of Pylos. Now this is a gem of a place, situated down the west coast of the Peloponnesus. We stay just outside the town and catch the bus for the 15 minute journey into the town. The main square houses a scattering of tables and chairs with people sitting watching the world go by drinking their Frappes and looking out of the port with it’s turquoise sea. It doesn’t seem to be on the tourist map but it is such a lovely place. The Castle of Pylos is situated above the town and well worth a visit. It also overlooks Navarino Bay known for it’s naval battle in 1827 where navies in Britain, France and Russia fought against those of the Ottoman Empire and their Egyptian allies. Apparently there are several wrecks to be seen by boat and we were desperate to try and get out in a boat to see them. However, with the tourist season not having started and having no boat experience we were gutted not to be able to go. The next day we decide to cycle to what has been listed by The New York Times as being one of the Top 10 beaches in the world, Voidokilia Beach. Typically we set off near the midday sun and cycle through tracks and scrubland, get lost, turn round, cycle some more and finally hot and sweaty and with me grumpy we arrive at the beach. This is a momentous occasion though, as it is the first time I get in the sea in Greece ! It is very beautiful, mushroom shaped, shallow and such the most beautiful colour. The cycle back is calmer as we don’t get lost. We chill out some more at the campsite and are within walking distance along the beach of the small town of Petrochori which is a small tourist destination. Tavernas all along the front and trendy bars and tourist shops selling everything olive oil. We move on the next day and stay over a couple of nights in Petalidi, which has a fantastic hardware shop selling just what I needed, sandpaper. They couldn’t have been more helpful. All for 50 cents ! ( I will explain about the sandpaper later ) While we were there we met the amazing Simon and Helen who are touring Greece for 3 months and Simon had built their Motorhome. It should be on Channel 4’s Small Amazing Places, complete with tiled kitchen, a real gas fire and plug sockets, we were in awe of this piece of craftsmanship. On recommendation the next day, we get up early for a change and travel into the mountains to the archaeological site of ancient Messini, comprising of a large theatre, marketplace, vast sanctuary of Asclepius and the most impressive intact of all Ancient Greek Stadiums. It is amazing and receives only a fraction of the visitors of Olympia and Epidavros and we saw no Japanese !

Our Greek Odyssey

13th April 2018 – 30th April 2018

We departed the overnight Ferry from Italy in Igoumenitsa Greece and headed for a spot on the beach that had been recommended. Now at 6am in the morning, in a country we had never visited and trying to find this beach proved very stressful. Our Sat Nav taking us down a road that was blocked and trying to turn round in the dark wasn’t easy but finally we found where we needed to be and parked up and slept for afew hours. When we woke we looked out to the most beautiful beach on one side and a lake the other, it was stunning. A beautiful introduction to Greece. We stayed here for 3 days as it was so lovely, before heading South to the island of Lefkada. The access to the island is by an amazing little bridge that swizzles and turns to let the boats out of the harbour, turns back again and all the vehicles are on the move, on and off the island. The main town of Lefkada is a Mecca for the sailing community with flotillas of yachts waiting to be chartered for the summer. We would quite like to learn how to sail and if they allow dogs on board we are going to try it out. The restaurants and bars are scattered around the harbour and it has a great vibe about it with the Saturday fruit and vegetable market, individual people selling what they have grown and a truck full of fresh strawberries that smelled devine. We also found Kalos the Vet who we visited to get Chloe a new flea and tick collar. He advised us of the dangers of Leishmaniosis to dogs and as we left with flea treatment and a new collar for Chloe, David raised his eyebrows and said, another thing for you to worry about (meaning me, who has to worry about something !). We headed out of the town and stayed a couple of nights in Ammoundia, right on the beach with a great Taverna which produced the most delicious lamb chops. We found a very small supermarket in the village, not sure it was open, but poked our headed round the door and suddenly the light come on in the shop and we were welcomed in. The elderly owners looked liked they had been there forever, just like the milk that was several weeks out of date ! However, we bought what we needed which was in date and waved goodbye. We have found the Greek people to be the most friendly and hospitable.

Our next destination on the island was a campsite, the co-ordinates stored in the sat nav and as we were going up a very small road near to our destination we passed a motorcycle who did a quick u turn in the road and out of his back pocket produced a brochure to his campsite. ‘You must come to our site he said, it is on a beautiful bay’ David and I looked at each other and thought how can we say no. He revs his bike and we follow, suddenly as the road gets narrower, the grip on my seat is getting tighter and the sweat on my palms is building. He turns right and there is a massive drop in the road, I scream to David ‘we can’t go down there !’ We stop, tell him our van is too big to get down there, he waves his hands and says it is OK and we end up following as we can’t turn round. At the bottom of the steep road is a rustic campsite that looks out onto the most idyllic bay, we park right at the front and as my heart starts to beat normally we look out and think what an amazing place. The site is empty, as the the season hasn’t started. There are several tavernas on the bay front but none are open and a couple of fishing boats that are moored in the bay. One evening I was outside with Chloe, it was pitch dark and we were walking among the 800 year olive trees that fill the site and  I saw these flashing lights; they were fire flies. I ran back and got David. We have been lucky enough to see these before in Malaysia, but to see them on the campsite was stunning. We stood there in the darkness with them flying all around, their little bodies flashing like fairy lights. It made that drive down the steep road so worth while. We stayed 4 nights at Santa Mavra before being escorted up the hill to make sure nothing was coming the other way and waved goodbye to Nikos. The roads in Greece are not too bad, better than Italy in fact, but as you wind round mountains and come into a village, the roads suddenly get narrower and if there is a sharp bend it makes it more difficult to manoeuvre our van. Luckily David takes it all in his stride and I just hang onto the seat.

We leave the island of Lefkada and head south into the Peloponnesus passing Patra and are currently at a beautiful campsite that had no steep road into it, and have been chilling in the warm weather for the last week. We leave for Olympia on Thursday.

Whistle Stop Drive through Switzerland & Italy

06th April – 12th April 2018

We left Germany with a fridge full of bockwurst and crossed into Switzerland, stopping at the border to complete forms we could not understand, handing over €32 hoping that this would be enough to allow us to drive through Switzerland. Basically, if you want to drive in Switzerland you have to pay, but we think it is worth it. The scenery is beautiful and as we passed through the snow capped Alps in the sunshine, to our first stop in Brunnen a beautiful small town on the edge of Lake Lucerne, David said that this is the most stunning place we have visited so far. The sun shone, we were in the holiday mood and thought, let’s blow the budget have have two beers ! We did check the price before we bought them and at an exchange worked out just over £6.60 which we didn’t think was too bad for Switzerland. We spent only one night in Brunnen as we had now booked our ferry to Greece and had a time scale to keep. Next stop was Lugano, now all we can say is WOW. This is where the elite hang out. The most expensive jewellers, selling the most expensive watches we have seen, Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Gucci, Moncier, the list is endless. We wandered the streets, found a vintage market and then onto the lovely park. Chloe was happy, she had found some grass and we tasted the most delicious ice-cream. The cars just dripped money and it did remind me of Southend Seafront with cars cruising along the front, obviously these ones were slightly more expensive ! Switzerland is so beautiful and when we leave Greece we would like to spend some more time exploring the country. We then crossed into Italy, the 7th Country in less than 3 weeks. Our destination for our overnight stop was Igea on the East Coast. All we can say is, Italy have the worst roads we have come across so far in all our travels. Trying to avoid as many pot holes as we can and we had got use to this, after our visit back home for 3 weeks. But we can honestly say that Italy does have worst pot holes than the UK. Finally we arrived at Igea, thankfully with our suspension still intact. Igea is a seaside resort and was a ghost town when we visited. The season doesn’t start until mid May, nothing was open. But they were painting everything and anything getting ready for the season. The next day more driving and a trip to Lidl to stock up the fridge and finally we arrive at Bari Port to catch the 10 hour ferry crossing to take us to Greece. The crossing was overnight and we had sleeping on board, meaning that we could sleep in our own bed, but we were landing at 05.30am and so not so much sleeping was going to happen.  We boarded quickly and were surrounded by tightly packed lorries mainly from Bulgaria but in front of us was another Motorhome from the UK and a lovely couple Liz and Paul from Wiltshire. They were in their first Motorhome and had been travelling since last September and were heading to Patras further South than us, as we were disembarking at Igoumenitsa. It is lovely to meet fellow travellers, to share places we have visited and sharing the same passion. Talking of passion, Liz has the same passion for Baked Beans as us and craving them after 8 months on the road. Now we have a few tins, having stocked up before we left, and knowing that craving we gave them a tin. We hope they throughly enjoyed them

The Wanderers Return…..

27th March 2018 – 05th April 2018

We spent a whirlwind three weeks with as many family and friends that we could get to see and left a day later than planned as we couldn’t believe where the 3 weeks went, time just flew passed. As we were leaving, me thinking have we got everything, passport, money, dog. David says as we are getting in the car ‘have we got my sausages?’ Always thinking of his belly !

Now to give you an idea of where we are going on this ‘Once in a Lifetime’ Part 2 adventure, we are heading to Greece through Germany, Switzerland, into Italy and catching a ferry to Mainland Greece. We plan on staying in Greece until the end of June and then when it is too hot, leaving on the ferry back to Italy and the rest is still to be finalised.

Back to current events, we caught an early tunnel crossing out of the U.K. and our first stop was to the beautiful little town of Gouda in the Netherlands/Holland, famous for it’s cheese. We stayed within walking distance of the town and spent a couple of days enjoying Gouda cheese, wandering around the many canals and windmills around the town and eating Gouda Cheese soup and cherry beer (well me !). As it was Easter, a chocolate Easter egg was on my radar and with David saying in the chocolate shop, have whatever one you like, I chose the largest possible. This lovely shop called OLALA (quite appropriate), had the large mixing bowls full of melted chocolate swirling round at the back of the shop, which David had to stop me diving into !

Our next destination was to Keukenhof Gardens. This spring garden, said to be the most beautiful in the world, only opens for 8 weeks a year and is filled with over 7 million spring bulbs. To make it even better, Chloe could go into the gardens as well and she became quite an attraction herself with the Japanese tourists wanting to have their picture taken with her. It has been on my bucket list to visit the gardens and it did not disappoint. With the cold weather the flower beds outside were not in bloom but the gardens still took our breathe away. The bulbs displayed in the indoor gardens were amazing, just stunning in colour and in full bloom. If you love flowers and gardening, try and get here once in your lifetime. It is the best garden we have ever visited.

We spent a further couple of days in the area, getting into the cycling mode of transport. It is such a joy cycling in Holland, at the traffics lights the cycle lane goes green before the car lane. The country is covered with cycle routes and everyone cycles, you feel safe, cars don’t cut you up and there are plenty of places to leave you bikes. We loved Holland.

Now as we want to spend some time in Greece and with our crossing booked we are on a schedule for driving. Next stop Germany. We stayed for two night just outside the small town of Ladenburg home to Karl Friedrich Benz, famous engine designer and posh cars ! It was Easter weekend and buzzing with people strolling around eating ice cream. Since we have been in Germany we are amazed how many people are eating ice cream ! It’s not as if we are having a heatwave here, very strange. We of course joined in, each consuming a small tub of ice cream and not sharing, much to Chloe’s annoyance. The following day we cycled a 14 mile round trip into Heidelberg. A tourist destination due to it’s landscape, Heidelberg Castle, the Philosophers walk and the lovely old town. Situated on the river and home to Germany’s oldest and Europe’s most reputable universities, we spent the day eating, drinking and being tourists. Again, Germany have designated cycle roads which we took through the lovely spring countryside. It makes cycling a complete joy and Chloe has now got into her mode of transport laying down in her trailer with David pulling her, just watching the world go by. What a life she has. On the way back we passed two small farms with little farm shops attached so we stocked up on some provisions, fresh fruit and vegetables. No sausages ! Talking of sausages the following day as we near the border into Switzerland we stop for a couple of days in the countryside and needing some fresh meat we walk to the butchers that I spotted on the way to our campsite. To say David was in heaven was an understatement, the shop was full of sausages and he left very happy after buying several packets of bockwurst. This shop also had a vending machine outside full of packets of sausages, just in case you fancy a midnight feast. ! I think David would quite like to live in the village of Burgunderstrabe.

The last week ……

February 2018 – 6th March 2018

Our destination on our way back to the UK was to our friends in France near Limoges. We visited them when we set off back in September and left our spare tyre in their barn and now needed to collect it. As we set off from Denia, we had no firm destination for the evening, just drive as much as we could suffer for the day and stop. Our first stop was near the border of Spain and France, Olite, a small town with a beautiful Gothic castle-palace. By the time we arrived it was early evening and freezing. We hastened around the town to give Chloe a walk and snuggled back up in the Motorhome, snow was forecast overnight. We woke up to thick carpet of snow, the first we have seen in the Motorhome. David was stressing about getting out, I said we would just have to stay another day as the weather was due to warm up the next day. The only one that loved it was Chloe, beach, snow, it’s all the same to her. David was avidly watching the road and the traffic flow and just after midday said, we are leaving ! The biggest obstacle was to get out of the area we were parked in, if we could do that it would be OK. The Motorhome is quite a heavy beast and we didn’t want to get stuck. As usual with David’s excellent driving we were on our way, as we left the town and headed onto the Motorway the roads improved. The reason the roads are so clear is that Spain have plenty of snow ploughs and gritters. We saw 3 in the space of 20 minutes. Now as it gets dark, I start stressing if we haven’t found anywhere to stay, as we had left a little late it was dark by the time we arrived at our stopover. In France no campsites are open until the end of March and we have to stay on an aire, which are areas set aside specifically for motorhomes, which are situated in or around villages. The aire was nearly full, but we squeezed in, cooked and slept ready for the drive to our friends the next day. We arrived to a warm welcome as ever from our lovely friends, a log fire, wine and a hot shower, pure bliss. Chloe was dragged to the vets to complete her pet passport and the poor vet had to get the worming tablet into her three times before she actually swallowed it. We should have wrapped it in a sausage roll and then she would have eaten it ! After two lovely relaxing days we set off for the final leg of the journey. Again we drove until late afternoon and started to look for a place to stay. The first aire we came to was shut and as we were discussing where we were going to go, a car pulled up behind us and a couple got out. Now I start to panic and think the worse. The French couple inform us that they also have a Motorhome and show us where we can stay on the map. With our limited French and their limited English they said to follow them, now I am thinking this doesn’t seem right. Anyway, we start following them, with me thinking we off to our graves ! After around 25 minutes we pull over and they get out of their car, hand us a hand drawn map of where to go from here and wish us “Bon Vacance” Wow, now I felt really bad thinking they were going to kill us. ! By this time it is dark, we ignored the map and found the nearest aire, around 10 minutes away, cooked and slept. The following day was forecast rain all day and so we decided to drive as much as we could. Our destination was Wimeraux, our first destination when we left in September. It was like coming full circle. The weather was certainly different from September. In September we were on the beach in the sunshine and now we were wrapped up in coats, hats and scarves (well me !) We had a final Moules & Frites for lunch and our final walk along the cliffs with Chloe.

This have been an amazing part one of our Once in a Lifetime journey, 167 days, 4 countries and over 9,334 miles. We have seen some amazing places, met some really lovely people and formed some firm friendships. I have had no sclerosis since I left. David has caught up on all the years of sleep he has missed, Chloe has reversed her age and we have learnt what is important in life. We are very, very lucky and are looking forward to Part Two. Blog will resume at the end of March.