Monday Aug 2 Naples to Iougomentisa (270km – 6 hours)
The plan was simple – to leave Naples and drive over to Bari and then onwards to the Black Sea to go for a swim. The idea was born out of last year’s road trip around the Adriatic where ended up in Bosnia and Montenegro but this time we would push East through Macedonia and Bulgaria get our towels on the sun loungers first before heading back through Greece.
However by now you should know that nothing is ever simple and best laid plans etc; yes we discovered about an hour out that we didn’t have the Turkish visas. So dropping the family at the shops for an ice cream I set off back down the road…
…only to get a phone call to say that my dear wife had found the requisite visas in her handbag. I said nothing.
After that it was plain sailing (except for the statutory overheat in the mountains – a 1 hr wait with more ice cream) and rolled into Bari in time to catch the boat to Iougomentisa in Greece.
Tue 3 Aug – Iougomentisa to Skopje (560km in 7 hours)
At least it was smooth across the Adriatic which made up for the dreadful airline style seats which are not designed for comfort but Greek TV (think of Eldorado meets 1970s sitcoms) blaring out in the lounge with kids running round until 0400 (we were due to dock at 0630). So I wasn’t really in the best of moods especially as I now also had a sunburnt right knee from driving with the window open.
First task – find coffee.
Coffee found and now wearing a slightly less smelly T Shirt than the one I didn’t sleep in and down to the bowels of the ship to reverse the 90 and trailer out. Just what I needed this morning. Anyway the kids were obviously not that impressed to be in Greece as they were fast asleep as we hit the motorway which was when I discovered that my GPS had not heard of Skopje or even Macedonia! Hmmm, it was there when I checked the and loaded the route plan before we left. Oh well – never mind. Paper map and road/junction numbers written on the windscreen would have to.
If you’re interested the best way is leave Iougomentisa as fast as you can, head for Grevena, then Niki just inside the border, then Bitola and finally Skopje.
The border into Macedonia was easy as I had worked in the country before and I was in their database which meant we were just waived through after a cursory passport check (mine). However as we shall find out this was to cause untold problems a few days later…
But first to Skopje and to find the campsite (which nobody when we asked them for directions had ever heard of). Actually it turned out to be rather splendid with a lake full of ducks (which the children chased of course), a decent restaurant and free wifi. This was quite important as I was carrying the laptop with the ACSI campsite database on it which had the useful app to e mail bookings in the local language and then produce route maps for campsites all over Europe.
Ah – a lie in until 0800 and then into town. Three times round the centre (well I was walking or being driven last time I was here) to find somewhere to park. Actually there’s a good carpark just of the main square and it only cost a few local ickies for all day.
The Main Square is a glorious 1960s soviet edifice with a couple of good cafes by the steps up to it; and today was no exception to find a bustling market selling fresh veg and stuff. Marvellous – so that was the shopping taken care of but not the exploring.
Time to wander through the backstreets, through the Christian quarter (with Mother Teresa’s house and church) and into the Muslim quarter. However the same image remains from my last visit in my mind is that the whole place is pulling itself up from the crushing days under Yugoslavian rule; window boxes sprout and pavement cafes blossom.
Mother Theresa's pad:
However the biggest thunderclap and a rainstorm had us diving into a modern shopping mall before heading off the most famous image of Skopje – the Stone Bridge. Last time I was here I stayed in the Stone Bridge Hotel as a guest of the Macedonian Gov so it was nice to pop back in for a coffee and watch the umbrella sellers doing a brisk trade. We even found some splendid sculptures and the new Ballet which had been built on the river banks just along from the famous Stone Bridge.
As the rain lifted time to explore the Bazaars and old markets. The first thing was to lose the children as they went exploring in a shop like something out of Aladdin only for them to come out having bought so Arabic slippers without haggling so that’s was a loss of pocket money for them! Oh and I bought some new flip-flops.
All too soon it was time to head back to the tent with enough gubbins to make kebabs, get the hyperactive children to bed before heading to Bulgaria in the morning.
Thursday 5 Aug Skopje to Plovdiv (450km 9 hours)
Up bright an early to chase the swans again – or at least the children were. We were dropping the tent to get away nice and early. After going round and round the ring road several times it was more like 0930 when wee got away – but the weather was good as we headed East into the hills which looked remarkably like Wiltshire. The cars were more interesting though…
Road Tax anyone?
A bit like the steam driven ones we found in Bosnia last year.
Passing donkey carts and tobacco drying on racks beside the road made the whole scene positively old world as we wound our way towards the border. Now do you remember I mentioned that the entry to Macedonia was easy…
…well I had breezed through on the strength of a previous visit where I had been a guest of the Gov and this was obviously tagged on their database. Which meant in their haste to be polite to me that wifey and kids did not have their passport details entered into the computer, the 90 and trailer were not registered and no customs declarations were made. This presented only a small problem leaving Macedonia but we were waved through (so it wasn’t their problem anymore) it reached epic proportions on the Bulgarian side.
As far as they were concerned there was no record of 3 out of the 4 passengers trying to leave Macedonia ever having entered and in a car which didn’t exist. This wasn’t helped that this was UK passport holders in a vehicle on Italian plates with documentation issued by the Americans on behalf of the Italian Gov. Where were staying? At a campsite? Where is your booking? We don’t have one! You can imagine the rest…
2 hours we sat in no man’s land there trying to work it out. In the end there was no obvious solution so a ‘tax’ was paid to allow us to enter – and off we set – only to be followed for the next hour by police car. By now we didn’t like Bulgaria.
There was only one thing to do work our way as fast as possible to Plovdiv. We had marked Plovdiv as archaeological centre of Greco/Roman ruins (as if we didn’t have enough of them at home buts its always nice to see someone else’s). But the roads deteriorated and the towns were poverty stricken soviet style slums. The most we could get out of a cash point was 50 Eu which give an idea of what the maximum daily wage was.
Storm clouds gathered as we passed Sophia and it was soon getting dark as we arrived in Plovdiv. No campsite existed! But, and pausing only to stock up on essentials in a Carrefour we spotted (bliss), I remembered seeing a road sign about an hour back with a tent on it. Retracing our steps we eventually found it. I actually wish we hadn’t and that we had just driven straight for the border.
It was a 1950s Butlins in true communist style and very run down and very empty. And right next door to a brothel with a car park full huge mercs and loads of scantily clad young women in an enormous swimming pool. Oh and a very bad rock band playing all night…
and I looked inside one of the huts:
Part II to follow in a sec.... __________________________________ The ex-Difflock Ambassador to Naples, Sir Nightbar DCJC DFS and 2 bars.
Plant a tree for the Difflock 3
Last edited by Nightbar on Thu Feb 16, 2012 1:49 pm; edited 4 times in total
The Border. I had forgotten how much fun the Turkish Border could be – but at least this time we had all the right paperwork – only the Turkish border guards just shut up shop and went to lunch. Back in an hour they said. Well the guards did come back and let us a bit further into no man’s land only to stop us again to tell us to get our visas stamped – except that the visa man was now on lunch. And it was getting rather hot. At least there was some shopping and a couple of fast food outlets (kebabs) to pass the time unlike at the Bulgarian border were there only an old dog farting in its post-prandial sleep.
But once through it was back onto a beautiful motorway straight to the heart of Istanbul and we raced along (as only you can in a hot 90 towing a trailer). Well we did race until joining the rush hour traffic around Istanbul. Once again giving up on the GPS which really didn’t have a clue where our final destination was we navigated by trusty compass along unknown roads, keeping the Bosporus and Black Sea mostly on out right. It worked and we arrived at a lovely campsite in Kilyos who even had our ACSI booking!
Time to set up camp properly as we had decided to stay here for a good few days only to find that the carton of milk had exploded in the trailer. The smell but me off my beer for at least 20 minutes after I finished scrubbing everything out.
Time to sleep at last.
Saturday 7 Aug THE BLACK SEA
Lazy start and a lazy day.
We met the crazy Brazilian (Eduardo the Scooterman : http://www.facebook.com/eduardomanzella ) who was riding round Europe (20,000 km) on a moped, the children met some nice Poles and they played all morning until it was time to reach out and touch the Holy Grail – to go for a swim in the Black Sea itself. Walking along the sand munching kebabs and watching the women sunbathe in chadors (and there is something in the way a chador clings to a young woman in the sea - but photos were not allowed), buying inflatable rubber rings to swim with. Bliss.
On arrival back at campsite it seems a bus load of Slovenians had arrive on a coach/camp holiday. Good on them as an excellent way to get out and see the world but there was a certain lack of camping ability and I never want to see someone trying to boil a kettle on an upturned iron balanced on a trainer again.
More kebabs and a bottle of wine or 2 with the Poles, Slovenians and mad Brazilian.
Sunday 8 Aug into Istanbul
Up at first prayers (well it is hard to miss them and they rather endearingly reminded me of Baghdad) for a gentle breakfast and coffee. Even though the children were happy to have a slow start and play with the Poles I’m certain youngest caught the sun and was a little off peak. Just as well it was slightly overcast for a drive into Istanbul and the fact that we were heading in the opposite direction to 15km tailback of traffic heading to the beach. The road straight down to the Golden Horn, keeping the Bosporus left on your left takes you to carpark on the water’s edge 5 mins from St Sophia’s (you can spot it as it is also an overnight motorhome park-up).
The day was spent wandering through the Artists’ Bazaar, a troll around St Sophies as it became know and an excellent lunch in a proper local café (chicken kebabs this time) only to find that the Grand Bazaar was shut. Shut!? Sunday trading laws in a Muslim country – well I never! So it was off the Blue Mosque instead and into some craft shops to look at wonderful felt hats and toy ponies.
Time to drive back (for some Burek – that’s flat minced kebabs).
Trying to be clever and get the ferry over into Asia we somehow got lost and drove across the bridge instead. Got lost in Asia as well and couldn’t find the way back. Bought beer and laughed at the overheating cars in 15km of traffic with the traffic cops just looking coming back form the beach. I do believe I even got on line to Difflock that evening.
We just had to eat here!
Monday 9 Aug Lazy day on the Beach at Kilyos
What is says on the tin really!
Watching the coach/camp Slovenians pack up was entertaining a I munched Baklava for breakfast. They were very well drilled and organised – I suppose it must have been all that communist training.
Thunderbolts and Lightening – very very frightening! (rained a lot too) so the kids played in the Poles’ caravan whilst I got some kebabs for lunch. Don’t think they were the best as the shivers and shakes hit and feel asleep feeling sick. Couldn’t go for a swim to sort me out as our beach was shut coz of the waves crashing in from the back end of the storm. The next beach along cost 25 ickies to get in so we didn’t. Kids found a dog to play with. Soup (no kebabs this time) for dinner.
Tuesday 10 Aug Istanbul…baths and bazaars
Got an early morning swim in down on the beach before the Poles drove back up to Warsaw – good surf for body boarding - before finding an even handier parking place at the back of the Blue Mosque (and still only 10 ickies for the whole day).
It was with shock that I finally realised what was different from the last time I was in Istanbul (the late 80s last century). The roads were (mostly) free of dust and dirt, the big yellow 1960’s chevvies being used as taxis had been replaced by small fiats and the like.
My darling children were ever so delighted about going shopping again sooooo we filled them full of lunch (kebabs) and headed of to the Spice Market regardless. Lots of shopping as we had lots of stuff to buy! At least the grand Bazaar was open today (kind of them) and youngest even haggled a shopkeeper to buy a huge fleece blanket in a moo-cow pattern (don’t ask) to a very good price.
and those spices!
Some wonderful rat-runs through the backstreet shops (like 5 floors up a warehouse to get to a public toilet). Got an excellent deal on some inlaid dominoes (which a child of mine then promptly played with and lost a piece) and got stung 60 ickies for 4 cups of tea but overall the day was a good one. Except we got stuck in rush our on the way home (5kms in 2 hrs and 3 hours to do 20 kms overall). Kebabs and bread for dinner again.
Wednesday 11 Aug Kilyos to Mitikas (Mount Olympus) (700km 11 hours)
This was going to be the long one and we weren’t looking forward to it. Over a very early breakfast we chatted to a German couple who were just about to cross into Asia to begin a 10 month drive down to Africa.
How can I sum up this bit of the journey:
No real traffic…
There goes the sea of Marmaris…
There goes the Thracian Sea…
No problems crossing out of Turkey…
There goes Thessalonika…
Mount Olympus to the right – wow!
Swim in the pool at the campsite.
Thursday 12 Aug Mitikas - a day to rest
All affected by something we ate on the road yesterday. The wise money is on the kebabs on the Greek side of the border. Day by the pool (and in the toilet).
Kebabs and pasta for dinner.
Friday 13 Aug essential shopping and rest
Late breakfast and out by 1200! Shops on Katerini had everything I needed to fix the electrics and the local cash and carry had 3kg of Nescafe for 55Eu (note from the future – no wonder Greece is bankrupt!) and I found some bacon for breakfast. Children and I are feeling better but wifey isn’t (a trend to continue until we left Greece 10 days later). Watched a child on a coach be sick through a window except they had forgotten to open the window first…it spattered out down the inside of the coach then out the next window along. Had a cold beer when I got back.
Pool. Kebabs. Bed.
Next part to follow... __________________________________ The ex-Difflock Ambassador to Naples, Sir Nightbar DCJC DFS and 2 bars.
Plant a tree for the Difflock 3
Last edited by Nightbar on Thu Feb 16, 2012 1:20 pm; edited 2 times in total
Why not. Lots of people walking as we drive up. You have to check in a Ranger Station so you’re not allowed to get lost on the mountain. Anyway the road runs out at an elevation of 1100m but there was a very nice stream to and rock pool to paddle in; a café too for some kebabs. Just down the road (everything is down the road I suppose from here) is a ruined temple to one of my favourite gods – Dionysius. Except it is being lovingly rebuilt by hand a Greek priest who was Hagrid’s twin brother.
Looking back up at Olympus
The Dragonflies of Dion - thousands of them
At last found a nice green lane to drive up as far as we could just because we could (and that’s on my YouTube page thing) where we made a sacrificial offering of milk and honey to the gods. All too soon it was time to turn around and go find lunch…we didn’t find lunch but did find a place called Dion. The incredible ruins and dragonflies and archaeological museum and things. This was one of the cradles of Greek power and civilisation, sanctuary to Zeus – handy if your house (Olympus) is just up the road.
Woken far to early by 3 hrs worth of bell ringing and orthodox chanting. Stuck my head out of the tent and all I could see were little old ladies in black scuttling to church.
Swim in the sea/pool and prepped for the last big push tomorrow.
Monday 16 Aug Mitikas to Corinth (500km 8 hrs)
Long road through the plains and mountains.
Stopped at the roadside toilets a few times.
Saw some fighters take off over the road at Larissa.
Now I know why the Greeks have fold down/lowerable caravans. The road toll for trailer/caravans is based height.
Crossed the Corinth canal, pulled into campsite, swam, kebab and bed.
Tuesday 17 Aug Corinth
Guess what – a lie in before popping down for an morning swim to refresh the system before exploring Corinth.
Gave up trying to find a supermarket so walked over the canal and watched motorboats and bungee jumpers do their thing. Souvlaki (kebabs) for lunch at a truck stop on the far side of the canal as this was the only place open.
Not many public toilets about.
Found the railway station for the trip into Athens tomorrow.
Back for a swim. Its hot hot hot. The firefighter planes (Canadians) are out.
Ate Souvlaki again.
Wednesday 18 Aug Athens by train
Best way to get into Athens is by early train and then a 5 ickie taxi up to the Acropolis before the crowds arrive.
Wandered round the decaying piles of stone and saw where Poseidon and Athena fought to name Athens (can you guess who won?). Hot. Water (and children’s patience) now running out and its only mid morning. Time to run away to the nice cool Acropolis museum (with lots of aircon)
TopTip about the Acropolis museum is don’t wear a skirt as all the upper floors are glass and you can see straight up…well yes you get my drift.
TopTip2 – if you want to see the infamous marbles that used to adorn the Acropolis – go see the Elgin ones as they were actually preserved unlike the Greek ones which are almost completely worn away through lack of care in the last 150 yrs and the acropolis museum is using the Elgin ones to make copies for their own museum.
Down to the market (Plaka) after lunch to hide in the narrow shady streets to spend spend spend like there is no tomorrow – how prescient that was for Greece. Bought catapults.
Most of this probably on fire now!
Taxi/train/swim. Ate souvlaki – bored with it already – want proper kebabs.
Part IV to follow.... __________________________________ The ex-Difflock Ambassador to Naples, Sir Nightbar DCJC DFS and 2 bars.
Plant a tree for the Difflock 3
Last edited by Nightbar on Thu Feb 16, 2012 1:18 pm; edited 1 time in total
Mostly driven by one member of our party’s need to be near a toilet.
Hot hot hot. Were going to move on tomorrow but temp/physical state means we will stay an extra day until the temp drops over the weekend.
Found steak and potatoes in a shop. Happy.
Friday 20 Aug rest day
Promised children they could go to the waterpark we saw from the train. It was shut. Children sulked in 40+ degs heat at 1000. Back for a swim in the sea instead.
Dropped tent and packed trailer. So hot slept on groundsheet.
A nice German couple gave the children watermelon; my children went and picked flowers for their VW campervan.
Saturday 21 Aug Corinth to Patras (350km all day)
36 degs at 0600! Hot.
Took a chance and drove into downtown Corinth and found a ferry across the Corinthian Sea as it sounded like more fun than driving to Delphi. A quick pull up the hill on the other side and into Delphi for an early lunch. Pizza!
So much cooler now we are back in the mountains and even walking all the way up to Apollo’s temple in the incredible remains of Delphi didn’t break too much of a sweat. I should explain. Just down the road from us in Naples was Cuma, where one of the Delphic Oracles operated from – right next to one of the entrances to the underworld – Persephone, Hades and all that. So it was good to take the kids to the see the ‘original’ home of the oracles. We even engineered it so they got their own prophecies from Sybil. Something about being good and eating up all your souvlaki if I remember correctly.
The mountains of Delphi
and some more ruins
Anyway back down the road, over the toll bridge into Patras and found the campsite. One next door to a waterpark to make up for the one that was shut in Corinth.
rather splendid (toll) bridge
Sunday 22 Aug day trip to Archaia Olympia (200km round trip)
The Pythian Games took place every 4 years in Delphi unlike the Isthmos which were every 2 years at Corinth. However today we were going to go to the daddy of them all. Only snag was the police, radar guns, wildly changing speed limits for no reason as far as we could see and if you are going to charge me a motorway toll – then at least build the motorway to go with it. However it was obviously harvest time for the squashes and you could just stop and buy the biggest ones I had ever seen…goes well with souvlaki.
Some big squashes:
Enough of that though. Wonderful day trip with all running the original Olympic running track (wifey wouldn't let me upload that video). Gyros for lunch – well almost a kebab.
Got back to the campsite to find a Brit couple in a rather nice 110 who had driven from the UK and were en route to Athens to pick up a dog. Had a few beers with them and passed them some details on vets in Italy for the drive back to the UK with the dog (vaccination requirements for entry to the UK).
There was a nice looking disco too but didn't meet the owners:
Meet a grumpy Austrian.
Monday 23 Aug Waterpark and Ferry from Patras to Italy
Lay up all day with the children in the waterpark as promised. Had a great time making all sorts of friends and its nice to see slides operating without the all intrusive health and safety rubbish. Also found the best Greek coffee so far.
Too soon all had to come to an end and it was time to head off down the docks and watch the illegal immigrants trying to break in to lorries. Parked up on top deck and blagged a cabin (remember we had learnt about overnighting in the seats). A little choppy but raced past Corfu and had a decent (cool) night’s sleep.
Leaving Greece (for the last time?)
Monday 24 Aug Bari to Naples (270km – 4 hours)
Docked at 0830 and in a shower at home just after lunch.
One heck of a trip and looks like we're off to Berlin (wifey's sis has just moved there) in summer 2012 - The Wall Tour? __________________________________ The ex-Difflock Ambassador to Naples, Sir Nightbar DCJC DFS and 2 bars.
Sorry for bringing this back to the top - but just been re-reading this and had to say it was fun! __________________________________ The ex-Difflock Ambassador to Naples, Sir Nightbar DCJC DFS and 2 bars.
Just realised I can't find last years' European battlefield tour report(probs didn't write it up yet) or the 2005 trip down report (all will be revealed later) - will rewrite them tonight... __________________________________ The ex-Difflock Ambassador to Naples, Sir Nightbar DCJC DFS and 2 bars.
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