Week 197

23rd September, 2012

We’ve made a last minute decision to leave early. The conditions – rapidly and vastly reducing ferry connections including the termination of Speed Runner next week plus an Autumn of Discontent in Athens with a General Strike on Wednesday affecting transport. It seems opportune to be taking a break. Contacted Superfast and they have a Luxury Cabin for Tuesday from Patras to Ancona.

  • F/b Adamas Korais leaves Sifnos this afternoon and we will be on it.
  • Two nights in a 5* Hotel just outside the new port in Patras.
  • 23 hours on Superfast up the Adriatic to Ancona.
  • Drive 3 hours to Parma in Italy for one night.
  • Drive 5 hours to Mulhouse in Alsace for one night.
  • Drive 4 hours to Reims in Champagne Country for one night.
  • Drive 3 hours to Calais, through the Tunnel and up to Surrey.

I will try to maintain my Blog. I’ve booked hotels with wi-fi but it doesn’t always materialise.

It seems a pity to be leaving because the weather is settling down for a hot week of swimming and socialising but WE WILL BE BACK.

24th September, 2012

Wonderful trip on a quiet F/b Adamas Korais arriving in Piraeus by 8.25 pm.

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Jockeyed for position with Marios from the supermarket as we drove off. He wished us a good journey and we drove off in to the night. The traffic from Patras was immense and continuous. The traffic our way was quite light and we did it in a record two hours. The car was so relieved to leave those cramped, island roads and thanked me continually for allowing it to stretch its legs as we cruised at 120 mph along the newer stretches of motorway.

The new port is further on than the old which is why we have switched our hotel from old favourite, Patras Palace to the Poseidon Palace which offers so much more. Our room is lovely. We arrived in time to have dinner which was very nice. There is free wi-fi throughout the hotel so I downloaded my copy of The Times to my iPad over breakfast and then we drove down to the new port offices to check on sailings and the strike.

What we learned quite surprised us a left us feeling extremely lucky. We leave on Superfast at 5.00 pm on Tuesday. The strike begins at midnight. Our boat goes but the Wednesday boat doesn’t and, possibly the Thursday boat won’t either. That surprised us because, usually, these strikes haven’t affected Greece-Italy ferries. We raised the possibility of the ferry tying up at Igoumenitsa but they had clearly been asked to consider that possibility already because they laughed and said that the boat would reach Igoumenitsa in time to leave by 11.30 pm and, therefore, there wouldn’t be a problem.

The temperature is climbing to 30C/88F and we have driven back to the hotel to swim in the wonderful pool. You can walk down their jetty and swim in the sea but the pool is delightful and incorporates a huge and powerful jacuzzi. We have had it completely to ourselves for a couple of hours and feel very relaxed.

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25th September, 2012

After a wonderful meal in the Hotel restaurant last night, we only needed a light breakfast. Unfortunately, we couldn’t resist the bacon & eggs on offer so we are feeling podged again. It is a lovely, still and warm morning – forecast to reach 29C/85F – which we are spending walking in the gardens and catching up on correspondence. A lot of my readers have wished us a safe journey and a good winter. It could be nothing other without the Poison Dwarf.

We board at 3.30 pm and sail at 5.00 pm. After dinner, we will try to stay awake to see the stop at Igoumenitsa at 11.30 pm and then sleep. The boat docks in Ancona at 4.00 pm tomorrow. The poor people booked for Wednesday’s 5.00 pm sailing are having to wait an extra seven hours in order to beat the strike.

26th September, 2012

We dined on grilled salmon last night with a bottle of chilled, red wine followed by half an hour out on deck getting plenty of sea spray in our faces. We went to bed at 10.30 pm and were out like a light so soon that we completely missed the stop at Igoumenitsa around 11.30 pm. This morning dawned bright and sunny and our luxury cabin at the front (bow?) on top deck with huge, panoramic windows gave us wonderful views of …..the sea and sky.

Breakfast in the A La Carte Restaurant comes in the price of our ticket so we couldn’t turn it down – could we. Fresh orange juice, a pot of wonderful coffee, toast, bacon & eggs followed by croissants.

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We staggered to the Purser’s Desk to buy a wireless internet card and download The Times to my iPad. We both find ships frustrating slow. We would never consider a cruise for that reason. Superfast XI docked at 4.30 pm and we were off shortly after 5.00 pm. Under our own steam, driving was a nice feeling. More importantly, the weather was warm and dry in total contradiction of the BBC’s weather forecast which suggested that the whole of our journey would be wet. The drive from Ancona port to the centre of Parma was really enjoyable and we arrived at our hotel by 8.30 pm. The Hotel Villa Ducale was ok but only ok.

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It demonstrates the difficulty in upgrading and maintaining an older building. The room was rather dark and a bit dingy although the bathroom was lovely. The dining room was like a huge, souless hall and the Maitre d’ like Basil Fawlty although the food was rather good.

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It wasn’t cheap. It cost us €180.00 for the night with dinner. We won’t go back there.

27th September, 2012

This morning we set off on the hardest leg of our journey – a five hour drive from Parma in Italy to Mulhouse in Alsace, France. Gone are the days when we got off the boat and drove non-stop to Zeebrugge to catch the ferry back to Hull. Retirement brings so many benefits, not least, low season prices and an indulgent drive through Europe. Once again, the weather was beautiful even in Switzerland. We were expecting thunderstorms there but the sun shone and the clouds remained high and white. Admittedly, the temperature fell to figures we hardly recognised – 11C/52F – and the peaks had plenty of new snow on them but huge waterfalls were spectacularly crashing down the mountainsides everywhere.

Our route today has been: Parma – Milan – Lake Como – Lake Lugano – Lake Maggiore – Belinzona – San Gotthard Tunnel – Altdorf – Seelisberg Tunnel – Lucerne – Basel – Mulhouse.

With a break for coffee, it has taken five and a half hours. We are staying at a hotel that we’ve used a couple of times before and enjoyed – The Holiday Inn. It is reasonably priced and very comfortable, has a fantastic restaurant and a wonderful, basement pool with sauna and gym.

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Tomorrow we drive to and stay in the champagne city of Reims. We are looking forward to that.

28th September, 2012

Wonderful drive this morning from Alsace to Reims in the heart of the Champagne Region. Late summer sun bathed the almost empty motorways – abandoned by the everyday French because of the level of tolls. French motorways are beautifully planted with the most glorious trees which increasingly display orange and golden burnished leaves as the depth of Autumn intensifies as we get closer to Calais and the coast.

We were in no hurry although we mooched around in our hotel room until 10.00 am, drinking coffee and listening the Today programme on Radio 4 and doing our correspondence. I downloaded the paper and read a chunk of it. No breakfast this morning. We are still full from last night. After a couple of hours driving:

Mulhouse – Colmar – Strasbourg – Metz – Verdun – Epernay – Reims (There are shorter routes but this is the quickest.)

We stopped for petrol and to have coffee and a sandwich. We wouldn’t dream of doing this in UK but French Service Stations are clean, attractively laid out and sell the most amazing fresh coffee and top quality food. I just had a baguette with ham and salad. It was gorgeous with every element from ham to oak-leaved lettuce to cornichons to mayonaise being chosen and combined for its quality. The coffee was as good as I could make myself. For that – €11.00 / £8.80. Not too bad for heaven.

We arrived at our hotel in the centre of Reims – about 100 mtrs. from the famous, ornately neo-Gothic cathederal – The Mercure Reims Centre Cathedrale.

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With great good fortune, we found the hotel has a secure, underground carpark and the hotel itself has just completed a full refit. It is delightfully comfortable from the brand new carpets to the huge new bed. We have every channel imaginable on the new, flat-screen television and a fantastically ‘cool’ bathroom. Wi-fi is strong and free in our room and everywhere else. I’ll let you know later about the restaurant.

29th September, 2012

Well, today we drive to Calais, spend two or three hours stocking up on wine and doing a month’s grocery shopping in Auchan and Carrefour. We will find somewhere nice for lunch. We have booked a spot to drive through the tunnel at 5.00 pm (France)/4.00 pm (UK) but it may be that we choose to go through a couple of hours earlier. It will take us another hour to drive to our home in Surrey and mark the end of one 6 month period and the start of another.

After three delightful hours on an almost deserted motorway in beautiful sunshine, we arrived in Calais at our favourite wine outlet – The Calais Wine Superstore – and then drive on to Auchan in Coquelles where we do our grocery shop. We have a bite to eat and then drive on to the Tunnel, arriving about 2.00 pm (French time), hoping to get on an early train. Unfortunately, one of the ferry companies is on strike so the trains are full but we still get into Kent for 4.30 pm and to Surrey before 6.00 pm.

The grounds around our apartment looked wonderful. The lawns closely mown and green, the trees in luscious leaf with squirrels darting everywhere. The temperature was a bit keen for a man in short sleeves – 14C/57F – but it was nice to feel a different climate. We had bought bread, butter, cheese  & ham in France and that made a quick tea along with a bottle of something. I just managed to stay awake long enough for the evening news and Match of the Day before a shower and falling into bed.

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