The start of the next adventure. At 11.00 am, we are taking Phyllis & Colin down to our new apartment because we will need their help while we are away. We would like them to
- call occasionally to clear post.
- supervise the fitting of the burglar alarm which still hasn’t been done.
- check that the ‘snagging list’ has been completed.
- occasionally check security.
At 2.00 pm we are off to Ashford and the adventure really begins. We are off to the Tunnel at 5.00 am for a 6.20 am crossing. Hope the weather we are currently experiencing continues. Blue skies and gorgeous warm sunshine still prevail.
Having said goodbye to Phyllis & Colin and thanked them for all they have done for us over the past few months, we drove down to the Ashford Travelodge. It was even more average than it looks but we were only staying a few hours. We went to bed at 9.00 pm.
Up at 4.00 am and, after shower and a cup of tea, we drive down to The Tunnel. Plenty of people booked in for the 6.20 am shuttle which, in the nascent daylight, leaves right on time.
As we emerge from the darkness of the tunnel to the daylight, it is obviously another gorgeous day in prospect. We begin our journey at 8.00 am Central European Time. It is a new journey for us with new motorways and it soon proves to be so much better than the route we have taken from Zeebrugge for the past eleven years. France is warm, sunny and totally empty.
We stopped in a scruffy little town called Woippy near Metz for lunch and to raid the local Auchan for wine. We buy our first tranche of wine for the six months away. I had already warned Mastercard of this activity in case they took fright and stopped my card.
We drive on to Mulhouse and to the Holiday Inn we had booked there. It turned out to be fantastic with a lovely room and a brilliant restaurant.
After eating too much in the wonderful restaurant, we had quite a fitful sleep, got up quite early and, after a shower and a cup of tea, we were on the road before 9.00 am. Unfortunately, it started to rain as we left the hotel and went to the car. The first hour’s driving was not particularly pleasant with heavy rain, standing water, spray from the heavy lorries and narrowed lanes and roadworks across Switzerland. We have always hated Switzerland. They charge 35 euros vignette to drive on their motorway system which is in the worst condition in Europe and then they close half of it with orange ‘temporary’ lines which scarily narrow the lanes down to the width of a gnat’s whisker. The temporary markings have only been there for eleven years as far as we know. The only improvement is that we are now driving it in daylight so we can see what an eyesore it is.
Anyway, descending rapidly through the wet, snowless alps into Italy, the weather miraculously changed to clear blue skies and strong sun. The temperature rose to 27C / 81F and all was right with the world. We found our Holiday Inn in Parma – another lovely hotel although you wouldn’t think so from the outside.
13th April, 2011
Had another fitful night because I had eaten too much but got up and had breakfast today. There is something about Italy makes you want to eat.
I had structured the journey so we did 7 hours on our first day, 5 hours on our second day and 3 hours on our third day. It all meant I could keep my speed in the 80 – 100 mph which is a little more comfortable and less likely to be picked up by local police. In fact, in the whole of our journey, we only saw a couple of police and they weren’t interested in us. We did the last three hours down to Ancona, drove to the check-in office and then on to the port dock. By 1.30 pm were were boarding Anek Lines ferry, Hellenic Spirit.
We were shown to our De-Luxe cabin which has a large porthole, air conditioning, television with Greek and Italian programmes, a double bed, table and chairs, fridge with complimentary wine and bathroom with toilet and shower. Mrs Bouquet would have loved it!
We put our watches forward another hour to Eastern European Time and opened the wine. After we’d drunk it, we went to the restaurant for dinner. Our first Greek salad of the year is always the best. It accompanied pork fillet and potatoes and a nice bottle of red wine. We went back to our cabin to watch television for an hour or so and, particularly, the weather. It all looks set fine for our crossing on Saturday to Sifnos. Strong winds are the danger that lead to boats being cancelled.
We had rather a fitful night having eaten too much and there was a bit of roll on the ferry. We woke up in time to see it dock at Igoumenitsa on the Greek mainland opposite Corfu and just below Albania. It looks a beautiful place, covered in trees. It is well know for its coastal fish farms which supply British supermarkets with Sea Bream & Bass, etc.. Here a lot of Albanians and Turks who work in Greece get off the boat to drive home for Easter.
After bacon & egg breakfast which was free because we had a De-luxe cabin, we read the paper on our Kindle and watched Greek news on television until a knock came on the door, asking us to vacate our cabin so it could be cleaned. We went out to a wi-fi area and I tried to bring my blog up to date. Unfortunately, the satellite signal was so weak, I only succeeded in deleting almost my entire week’s Blog so, if you read it day by day, you will notice it has almost completely been rewritten. Our hotel in Patras has free, superfast broadband.
We rolled off the ferry about an hour late at 3.00 pm and drove across the road to our hotel – The Patras Palace – which we have used for ten of the twelve trips we have driven to Greece. It is delightful with large, richly appointed rooms and private parking in secure grounds. This is particularly important because bands of illegal immigrants roam the port fences just waiting for their chance to slip into the back of a lorry, the boot of a car or even under the back axle. They hope to get on a boat to Italy. As we look out from our expensive hotel balcony, we see these ragamuffins lined up against the fence eyeing up an opportunity. We feel sorry for them but not that sorry. They put in enormous efforts to get to the West. They take enormous risks to get to the West. They should stay in their own countries and invest that enormous effort and appetite for risk in making their own lands fit for a good life.
Looking beyond the immigrants, we see this:
This morning we got up in leisurely fashion. I didn’t get out of bed until 8.00 am. After a huge and leisurely breakfast of toast & coffee, bacon & eggs in the roof-top restaurant, we have returned to our room to make telephone calls – using Skype – and Pauline brings her accounts up to date while I bring my Blog and website up to date.
We listen to Radio 4 all morning as ferries come in from Italy and bands of immigrants get increasingly excited. Police and army men stroll lazily around the sensitive, docking areas but immigrants are not really afraid of arrest because they are never arrested. To do so would mean far too much effort and expense housing detainees, processing and deporting them. The immigrants know this. The police and army just chase them behind the barbed wire barrier knowing that they will return again and again as soon as their backs are turned.
The Hydrofoil, – Speedrunner – leaves at 7.30 am and it takes 3 hrs to drive from Patras to Piraeus. We will check out at 3.00 am because we cannot afford to miss it. We will arrive at Kamares port, Sifnos at around 11.00 am. We will see our house for the first time in six months.
There will then be a short hiatus before we can achieve internet connection again. It may take two or three days.