6th April, 2014
Happy Birthday to me…….Got a nice birthday card from Ruth which gave me pleasure. It was the only physical one. Pauline wished me Happy Birthday at midnight and again at 5.00 am when a house alarm went off somewhere in the neighbourhood.
Of course, at 63, I am becoming an Old Thing although my mind is still fairly young.
We were up at 5.00 am and out of the house by 6.00 am. We were setting out on our fifteenth consecutive drive to Greece or our twenty ninth crossing of the Continent of Europe. We drove to the Tunnel – just over an hour – caught an early train and drove on. Always, when we get to this point, we are both thinking about what we’ve forgotten. Six months is a long time to be without something we need.
We drove off in Calais at 9.00 am after having put our watches forward one hour. This is the second hour we have lost in a week have put the clocks forward in UK last Sunday. We have a lovely, two and a half hour journey to the Cathedral and Champagne city of Reims. We are staying at the Hotel de la Paix in the city centre. We find it easily with our sat. nav. and drive into their underground carpark. It is only about 1.30 pm and we haven’t pushed it. We had two stops for petrol and coffee.
The hotel is lovely and we are soon swimming in their indoor pool and trying out their sauna and steam rooms. Much refreshed, we have some wine and and some nibbles and wait for Dinner. While we wait, we watch their only British TV channel – BBC1. Dinner is excellent. We had a salad and roast loin of cod (cabillaud). It fills us and we are soon in bed to prepare for the next leg.
We don’t usually eat breakfast but we have a cup of tea in our room and are ready for leaving before 9.00 am. We are driving to Mulhouse (Muloose) in Alsace. We have stayed there many times and like it. A four hour drive with stops got us there for around 2.30 pm. Same routine in this Holiday Inn. We checked in, unpacked, booked a table for Dinner and then went down to the deserted indoor pool and gym. We swam for the best part of an hour and then went back to our room.
At 7.30 pm we went for Dinner in their excellent restaurant. Salad and Knucke of Pork roasted in beer and honey. It was really high quality cooking. We don’t have Sweet but go back to our room for coffee and watch the remorseless questioning of Pistorious. It is such a determined, step by step questioning that I am beginning to believe I might have killed myself. I don’t know why he doesn’t just throw his hands up and plead guilty andput us all out of our misery.
From our bedroom window in Mulhouse, we could see the French Alps. There was snow on them. This was the first time we’ve seen snow in the 2013-14 season. In fact, this is the first year out of the 36 we’ve been married that we have seen no snow in England.
As we set off on our five hour drive, we are soon at the Swiss Border. We don’t really like Switzerland although the scenery is quite pleasant. The roads are awful and have been for the past fifteen years. Lane closures without warning, narrow lanes, multicoloured road markings, terrible drivers who never move over. It really isn’t pleasant. To cap it all, they stop us at the Border and grumpily charge us €40.00 for a vignette giving us the privilege of driving on their terrible tarmac.
The weather is hot and sunny as we approach the 17 km Ghottardo Tunnel. We are amazed to see, however, for the first ever time in our fifteen year’s experience, the mountains are thick with snow right down to the roads. We are amazed. It isn’t as if we are earlier this year. We go round the lakes – Lake Luzern is the first major after Basel and then Lake Maggiore on one side and Lake Como on the other. Then we hit the Milan ring road just at the end of rush hour. That’s fun. On past Piacenza and, after just about five hours we arrive at another of our favourite stopovers – Holiday Inn Express Parma.
No pool here but the Desk Clerk is called Elvis. Really, no one looks less like Elvis than Elvis Montiano but his parents decreed it. We unpack, log on to the internet and check our emails, watch BBC News and then go out for a walk in the sunshine. Dinner tonight was a sinful cheese and spinach pancake followed by veal which was just a little rare for Pauline.
The last leg of Western Europe is a three hour drive past Modena, Bologna, Forli, Cesena, Rimini (skirting San Marino) and to the port of Ancona. We are there well in time. Our drive has been relaxing and without incident. The weather has been good throughout since we left Surrey on Tuesday and the traffic has been relatively light. This is the beauty of travelling out of Peak Season. Even our ferry tickets are half price what they would be in July.
We check in at what looks like a Bus Station. Superfast ferries are our line of choice. They used to boast Italy –Greece in 18hrs. Now, because of the financial crisis, they cut their speed to save fuel and do it in 23hrs although, when we get on board, they use Greek time so our watches go forward for a third hour in two weeks. We are trying to avoid ferry-lag. To reward ourselves for having made it in one piece, we have a Luxury Cabin which is huge and contains a table, large sofa, arm chairs, a fridge stocked with goodies, a flat screen TV which receives BBC News throughout the whole trip down the Adriatic and a huge and very comfortable double bed. It also, of course, has a toilet and shower room.
We are taken to our cabin by a steward who explains the air conditioning controls and that we must close the curtains at dark. We are at the top and front of the ship with a large porthole window to see what is mainly just Adriatic sea. We go and buy a 24hr wireless internet pass for my i-Pad to receive emails and download the paper. It costs €5.00. In all the hotels en route, wi-fi has been free. At least, the satellite internet on board is strong and good quality. I can use it happily in the comfort of our cabin. One of the benefits of paying a large amount of money for a luxury cabin is to be served Breakfast free of charge in the A La Carte Restaurant. I would have thought free wi-fi would be a good addition. I wrote it in the suggestions box.
The Superfast XII had already called at Igoumenitsa by the time we were breakfasting in the State Room on Fresh Orange Juice, Bacon & Eggs and Pauline had croissants. We turned into Patras harbour about 2.30 pm. When we got down to the ship’s garage, we found it almost deserted like the ship itself. We were soon off and driving out of the new, Patras Port towards Kaminia a bit further up the Peloponnese coast where we were staying at the Poseidon Palace Hotel. It’s a nice hotel in a lovely, quiet spot. We’ve stayed there four or five times since the Old Port closed. It has a wonderful pool and access to the sea. The restaurant is pleasant and the room is large and incredibly cheap off peak. It also has strong and free wi-fi which is an essential.
Up early and settle the bill. Breakfast is huge buffet of bacon, sausage & eggs with lots of fresh coffee (could have had toast, doughnuts, chocolate croissants, fruit salad, etc..) although we were still full from the night before. By 7.30 am, we are on the road to Piraeus. We feel we own it. We are certainly paying a lot for its development through European Finance Initiatives. It was started four or five years ago but regularly ran out of money. A new tranche has been released and work is going on apace. It is beginning to resemble Switzerland because there are so many tunnels. At least it’s better than the death trap it is replacing. We know the route so well now that we are at Piraeus Docks well before 11.00 am. Collecting our tickets for Speed Runner, we are soon driving on board and in our seats.
I downloaded my newspaper in the hotel room and used the journey to Sifnos to read the main section of the Sunday Times. We snoozed a bit, watched TV a bit and had to fend off a beggar asking for money. It turned out to be Makis from the camping site on Sifnos. He gets me with practical jokes wherever I go. He is desperate for me to go round for coffee. I must do it soon.
We docked right on time just after 3.00 pm and drove to the house. It looked great and certainly was inside. Our friends had made sure of that. We later learned that two or three viewings by potential buyers had gone on in the last month before we arrived and they couldn’t believe that a house locked up for six months could stay so well maintained.
After unpacking the car which took about an hour, we showered, changed and went out to see Panos & Rania to eat at their restaurant. I had grilled chicken and grilled vegetables. It was lovely and felt as if we hadn’t been away.
Woke up to two shocks. Friends phoned to say they would accompany us to the Community Offices because we have to register our well – our water source. Actually, it turns out not to be a major problem and will be completed before the May deadline. The next and most important thing was to go to see our friend at the Germanos technology shop. He contacted me a few times over the winter in Surrey and I was looking forward to seeing him again. I have known him for years from when he worked in the Post Office. What a shock, then, to find that just a week before we arrived Germanos had forced the closure of the shop on the grounds that it wasn’t generating enough business.
I usually purchase a six month contract for 10Gb per month mobile internet on a USB stick from Cosmote. My Germanos friend copes with any bills while I am away and I settle up with him. Now I have to phone Cosmote direct and get someone to speak English to deal with me direct or we go to Germanos on Milos which is a bit of a hike.
Another problem that arose yesterday was the washing machine. It was the cheapest model in the shop when we bought it eight years ago because we only used it for six or so weeks a year. Now it is doing six months washing at a stretch and seemed to have failed didn’t really surprise us. The programmes worked although there was one, small problem. It would take in water which can be a problem for a washer. I had turned the water supply on. I unscrewed the connecting pipe but could see no problem. We agreed to buy a new machine tomorrow. I tried to reattach the supply pipe so there were no leaks over night, pushed the washer back into its place in the Laundry and forgot it. An hour or so later, Pauline thought she would give it one more try and, unbelievably, it worked perfectly. Our activities had dislodged a blockage of dried and crusted soap powder from the water inlet valve and our eight year old, very cheap washing machine jumped into action. Two full wash programmes later, it was working as if it was new. They don’t make them like that anymore – at least not in Greece!
Woke up early after a weird dream this morning. I never dream – or at least I am never aware of any of them. I get to sleep very easily and am dead to the world until the alarm goes at 6.00 am. Tis dream was bizarre because I was back in school, walking down corridors I had walked many times but not for the past five years. I was pushing a trolley. I’ve no idea why. Suddenly, I was outside in the street still pushing my trolley – a book trolley I think – I couldn’t find my way back into the school. Is there some deep meaning hidden there?
Did our second, big supermarket shop this morning so we now have all we need to get through the Easter weekend. Our lovely friend, Flora, took the trouble to contact us in Surrey and we looked forward to seeing her again. We get wonderful oranges from her father’s garden for my morning juice. We had coffee at the cafe and used their wi-fi to collect and send emails. A friend contacted Cosmote in Athens and we look like ordering a 20GB mobile internet stick to get us through the year. Things are gradually sorting themselves out.
We drove home and, after coffee, set about cleaning the patio with a real will. All this effort is already driving my weight down. I have now lost 54 Kgs and it is really beginning to show. All the clothes I left here last Summer look like huge sacks on me. Don’t say anything. I know they did anyway.
For our meal today, Pauline cooked Tarragon Roast Chicken with peppers and onions and a wonderful sauce. We had yoghurt and a plum sauce she had cooked. A lovely meal to grace a lovely day.
Woke up early today to the sound of torrential rain on the roof. There was a heavy, low cloud falling over the mountain opposite our house and water spouting from the rooftops. Fresh orange juice and tea for breakfast and we put the underfloor heating on because it felt a little chilly. It certainly feels colder than we did in Surrey. We are still struggling to sort an internet connection out even with help from friends.
Today, at Café Prago, we trawl through the Cosmote site and realise it can all be done on line. I will phone them tomorrow to iron out the details and then buy a 20Gb USB stick and contract and soon, we will be cooking with gas. (or surfing with electricity.
Had the underfloor heating on again this morning. A bit of a nip in the air outside. The only reason to mention it is that we are in danger of using the heating more in Greece than in Surrrey this yyear. Spoke to Cosmote this morning on the phone. We will be up and running with mobile internet soon and we will top up our Greek mobile at the same time. That done, we went up to the Butcher’s shop in Apollonia and bought 8 x large Pork Chops, 4 x Beef Steaks, a Fresh Chicken and a whole, fresh Mounara cheese. Everything is so cheap. Large Pork Chops cost less than £4.00 for two. Wonderful Beef Steaks cost £6.70 for four. These are prices that people dream of in Surrey.
We went on to Mario’s supermarket to buy staples – 8 x bags of dried, skinless chickpeas. We know from experience that they go missing during the Summer and are not replaced. Cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, peppers, mushrooms, oranges for Breakfast juice. We gave Flora Easter presents for her children. We have them for the children of about ten of our friends & helpers.
This afternoon, we will complete the cleaning of our windows, shutters and patio and then start on clearing weeds from the garden. Let’s hope it stays dry.
We were woken up by a huge clap of thunder at 3.30 a.m. followed by a massive lightning flash. There was very little subsequent rain. Pauline struggled to get back to sleep but I went out like a light as usual.
Today we began garden clearing of annual (flowers) weeds depending on how you view them. It will do us good and keep us occupied for a couple of weeks.