Features: Brindisi or Bust
Location: The Real Beach, Samos, Greece
Distance so far: 14,500 km
GPS Co-ords: 37d, 42.321' N, 26D, 39.701'E
Dates: Monday 23rd October to Sunday 5th November
Highlights: 2,300 km drive from Southwest France to SouthEast Greece. The night we lost each other twice.
We had offered to drive a car for my sister, Colina and Jon her husband from France to their new home in Nafpaktos Greece. Jon has moved out there with his company to work on the new bridge joining Northern Greece to the Peloponnese and under Greek law you cannot own a Greek registered car unless you are paying Greek tax. Their best option was to buy a French 'des wreck' and for us to drive it down. My father had purchased an 11 year old Peugeot 405 in very good condition on their behalf. Every week in France we had said that we were leaving 'next week' - this became a little embarrassing after 7 weeks. Our deadline had arrived; the car had to be in Greece to collect my parents from the airport in Athens on Friday 27th. AutoRoute Express plotted our course avoiding all the toll roads at a maximum speed of 80 km/h and reported a journey time of 4 full days.
We started the long process of packing and in our usual style with all the forgotten jobs that arise, the predictable few hours turned into 3 days. Monday lunchtime we waved goodbye and set off in convo, Sue driving the Peugeot with Chaka riding shot gun, on route to Espace Land at Nimes to collect some spares still with a day to spare. Driving and navigating with only one hand was proving somewhat of a challenge for me in Bumble, at one point we went straight through the central square of Toulouse which was more pedestrian than vehicular. At the time I was using the GPS which pinpoints the centre of each town, from here I thought we could pick up signs going east, it worked and Sue was following merrily behind oblivious to the chaos in Bumbles cab.
That evening we made camp at Octon by a famous roundabout that a few skinny dippers will remember from over 10 years ago (Becky!). Unfortunately the views were lost as we arrived in the dark and left in the dark arriving at Espace Land early on Tuesday morning. The team were all there rushing around, we found Patrice and gave him a Berber teapot all the way from Morocco, purchased our parts and hit the road again. Our next stop was La Ciotat to visit the Caviggia family, my mother's half half sister (it gets more complicated than that), drop off a hat left at my sisters wedding two years previously and catch up on news of the family in South Africa. A brief but pleasant few hours was spent catching up, but I was increasingly aware of our deadline and to remain on schedule we had to be in Italy that evening.
We said our farewells and hit the road around five. That evening we planned to 'do' the French Riviera. After a fuel stop, which included petrol, diesel and a 'Quick' burger, we were ready for the road ahead.
At one point Sue pulled up alongside and thought I was going mad, 'Why was I wearing a head torch and driving?' Again the challenges of map reading and driving at night saw me getting resourceful. At midnight we were racing the Monaco Grand Prix circuit at a heady 45 km/h in Bumble having already cruised St Tropez & Nice etc. The border and our target were not too far now, we stopped just short of the Italian checkpoint to share out passports and Chaka's documentation but the border was totally deserted. The standard of the roads immediately dropped, strewn with potholes and road works we persevered for another couple of hours before calling it a night at 2 am, finding a comfortable car park by the sea at San Lorenzo al Mare.
Chaka was riding shotgun with Sue and beginning to show his protective instincts. As we entered Italy there was a smiling face of a politician on a billboard, Chaka took a dislike to him immediately and started barking and bouncing round the back of the car, good taste at such a young age. A little later on a motorcyclist had come round the back of the car at traffic lights and stared in, Chaka saw him off!
We woke with the light on Wednesday morning still on schedule for Greece and set off again. By lunchtime we had just passed Genoa but only covered 200 km in 5 hours. After lunch and a brief siesta we headed off and by 8 pm we had only reached La Spezia, a total of 400 km in 10 hours, we were averaging 40 km/h (25 mph). The Italian Riviera literally follows the coast up mountain down valley to the next resort, over 700m high passes through numerous S bends and then back down to sea level, progress was frustratingly slow, speed limits were mostly 50 km/h rising to 80 km/h for brief periods and we still had to be in Greece by Friday. Sue needed to find fuel so we headed into the centre of La Spezia looking for a 24 hour manned Petrol Station. The majority of Petrol Stations close at 7pm but have credit card pumps, unfortunately European Credit cards are smart cards much like the chip in a mobile phone and the English debit/credit cards are not compatible. Having pulled into yet another credit card station I pulled straight out again and into the traffic. Two sets of traffic lights later I realised Sue wasn't behind me so pulled off into a side road to wait for her. In Bumble's mirrors every set of headlights looks like a white Peugeot 405, following a slow big yellow Land Rover should have been easier hence Bumble's lead in the convoy. 10 minutes later, still no sign. I retraced my steps to the petrol station and waited in a prominent position. After half an hour still nothing - a scenario we had not planned for.
Sue's side of the story:
I was desperately short of petrol and as we pulled into the Petrol Station I headed for the nearest pump. I was just about to get out of the car to see if they took Visa when I saw Neil pulling out of the Petrol Station and straight into the hub of traffic. I scrambled around, started the car and set off in hot pursuit not quite knowing why he had raced off in such a hurry. A few choice words passed my lips and by the time I managed to pull out into the traffic, which was heaving, I realised that Neil was long gone, probably 2 or 3 sets of traffic lights ahead and on an extremely busy road with nowhere to pull over and wait. I continued to drive to see if I could spot him further along the road, but nothing. It then dawned on me that I hadn't got a map, didn't have a copy of the route we were taking, a mobile phone, driving license or even my passport -they were all in Bumble! Panic set in as I continued to drive, not knowing which direction to take Parma or Pisa. Help! I really thought that Neil wouldn't even know I wasn't following him for a while as he had told me earlier how difficult it was at night to spot the Peugeot and thought that he would assume I was one or two cars back and continue driving until he reached a quieter stretch of road. With traffic everywhere, I had to make a decision and decided on the route to Parma thinking I would see Bumble up ahead, but nothing. I continued briefly along the road and found myself at the entrance to the motorway. It seemed crazy to continue driving so I turned around and parked in a small village a few hundred meters along. The best option was to telephone Neil on the mobile phone and get his whereabouts then arrange a rendevous. I parked up alongside a tobacconist shop which was just closing. I also had to think of Chaka who detests being left in the car on his own if he can't see you, particularly in the dark and in places he is not familiar with. I got out of the car and went to the tobacconist shop and gingerly asked that perpetually embarassing question, 'do you speak English'? 'Yes', came the reply and I heaved a sigh of relief. I explained what had happened - that I had lost my husband in La Spezia, a slightly bemused look and the inevitable question, 'how'?. I asked if there was a public telephone anywhere that I could use. He directed me across the road to a small bar and in I went, waiting for the howls and wails from Chaka as I went. After a conversation of sign language I was pointed to the telephone. It was only then that I realised I had no idea what the mobile number was. We got the phone specifically for the trip and use it so little, it really is for emergencies and the odd text message and I have never become familiar with the number. I don't think we could have been less prepared for this journey from France to Greece if we had tried. I knew my parents had the number so I called them and my mother answered. In retrospect, my mother was probably the worst person to call as she became progressively more concerned as my present predicament unfolded. I tried to reassure her that it was OK and that at least Chaka was with me - the one thing we did get right. I made the call to Neil, hoping that he would have switched the mobile on, it rang and he answered. I described the village and he was on his way. The man from the tobacconist shop had come into the bar to see if I was OK and we continued chatting for a while as I told him of our trip. He had also travelled through Africa. Forty five minutes later, no sign of Neil and I guessed he could not find the village. Off I trotted again to the bar and called Neil, more directions were given and back to the car I went. Chaka was actually extremely good throughout all of this. I think he sensed the tension coming from me and didn't want to add to it by howling and barking. Finally, along the road came a big yellow box on wheels, it was unmistakably Bumble. Neil and I gave each other a big reassuring hug and off we trotted with Chaka back to the bar to get a little more prepared for the rest o the journey. The first thing I did was to take possession of the mobile phone. As a woman travelling alone with a dog who hates being left alone, there seemed little point in me having to hunt around for a telephone while Neil sat in the comfort of Bumble waiting for the call. Also, I explained to Neil how frustrating it was when we approached traffic lights which were just beginning to change and he would merrily race through them on amber/red whilst I had to stop as they had then changed to red. With regard to the route, it turned out that Parma was not the route Neil was going to take, it was Pisa however, after talking to the tobacconist, he said that Parma was actually a better route, totally by-passing Rome and cutting directly across to the East coast of Italy and down to Brindisi. What did we learn from this little episode, BE PREPARED! Also, take a mobile phone, it really was invaluable to us in this situation.
Eventually the mobile phone rang and thankfully it was Sue. She was in a café just off the entrance to the Parma AutoRoute, I told her to stay put and I would come and find her, I had both the GPS and map. After 45 minutes of driving in ever increasing circles and searching for a café on the road to somewhere, I had just about given up when the phone rang again. She now had the exact name of the village and bar, 5 minutes later I was there - relief!
After catching up, swapping stories and a couple of coffees we formulated a plan should we loose each other again. Progress had been painfully slow and the helpful chap that Sue had been talking to naturally assumed that we would take the AutoRoute over the top to Parma and then across to Ancona and down the east coast of Italy. Although driving over 200 km north, more than half the distance we had covered in the last 10 hours it seemed a sensible decision so we went with the local knowledge. We succumbed to the expensive tolls we were trying so hard to avoid, only far enough to catch up with ourselves.
Off we went, filled up with fuel and joined the AutoRoute. We seemed to climb at a steady 80 km/h for the next hour as we crested the mountain range. At 1am we caught a couple of hours sleep still aiming to reach Ancona by morning.
The alarm went off at 5 am, reluctantly we started again, and I only managed an hour before pulling off. I parked between some lorries and waited for Sue to pull along side. The car that followed me off the AutoRoute stopped some 50 yards away, I waited then drove over to see what the delay was. It wasn't Sue; she was nowhere to be seen! I raced back onto the AutoRoute and turned off at the next services thinking she may have pulled off there. Still no sign. The phones were card only so I continued on again. In the excitement I misread the signs round Bologna and ended up going south. At the next services I phoned Sue who was merrily on route to Rimini. We made a plan to meet at the Rimini exit in due course. My next problem was to U-turn, not so easy with tolls.
This was another example of the how easy it is to get separated. We were travelling at around 90kms in the middle lane of the motorway, Neil directly in front of me when he suddenly started swerving within the lane. I guessed he was either tired or there was something wrong with Bumble and he suddenly pulled over into the slow lane sandwiching himself between 2 lorries. There was absolutely no space for me to pull over unless I quickly reduced speed in the middle lane. This I couldn't do as there was a lot of traffic behind me pushing me along at 90kms. All I could do was continue in the middle lane and wait for a free space in the slow lane. When I eventually did this I had no idea where Neil was, all I could see were head lights of on-coming traffic and none of them looked like Bumble. I continued in the slow lane reducing my speed right down expecting Neil to see me and overtake. But he was no-where to be seen. I guessed that he had pulled off somewhere feeling tired but I couldn't be sure. It really was turning into a cat and mouse game. I knew that if he had pulled off at a service station, he would call me, so rather than stop myself, I waited for the call. It came quite quickly and I told Neil that I would wait at the Rimini exit and meet him there. With no need to drive at a snails pace, I luxuriated in putting my foot down and reached Rimini tolls and waited for Neil. One and a half hours later, he arrived, having taken the wrong turn and looking pretty exhausted. I had at least managed half an hours sleep.
At 9.30 I approached the Rimini exit, not so fast, it was the first of two, had Sue carried on or was she here, I pulled off thinking I could always drive onto the next. There she was waving frantically by the side of the road. My diversion South had lost us an hour. Back on the minor roads, progress was a little faster as the Adriatic coast was flat, but still town after town slowing things down to 50 km/h, then back to 80 km/h for a short burst and so the cycle continued. It was now Thursday morning and our last opportunity to make Greece in time was to catch the evening ferry from Brindisi. By lunchtime Bumble had begun to pull to one side under braking. On closer inspection the right front slave cylinders were leaking, the Italian mountains had taken their toll on Bumble's brakes. Luckily each town in Italy seems to have a Rover agent so we pulled into one which had an older Series 3 109 in the car park, just North of Pescaro. Not a word of English was spoken by the Service department. I gathered it was now 4 pm and they had a number of jobs to finish that day and were reluctant to look at Bumble. I persuaded them it would only take 5 minutes to remove the wheel, clean off the brake fluid, which would see us to Brindisi with some very gentle driving. Reluctantly they gave in and 10 minutes later we were on our way and with no charge.
We persisted with the minor roads making slow progress, the day drew on and Brindisi looked further and further away. At midnight we pulled into a Petrol station, squeezed LR50,000 worth of Diesel out of the pump and then pulled over to sleep. In the middle of the night I heard a revving engine, jumped out of bed thinking that someone was stealing the Peugeot, to hear squealing tyres, my heart was racing, my brain fully awake but I just couldn't get my body to co-ordinate or eyes to focus. The squealing tyres faded into the distance by which time I was relieved to make out the familiar white shape next to Bumble. My heart was pounding and adrenaline pumping, too much excitement for one day. The alarm went off at 6 am and as the dawn came we could clearly see that we had parked over the petrol storage tanks next to the vent pipes - luckily Sue hadn't lit the gas stove for her nightcap.
At Ortono we parked by the sea for some breakfast and to let Chaka stretch his legs, he had spent 3 days cooped up in the car without a proper run. He was unleashed like a coiled spring tearing up and down the beach chasing after his tennis ball.
While breakfast was digesting I used the time to fit a couple of the parts collected from Espace Land. Firstly the left instrument panel bulb had blown back in Morocco and finding a replacement had proved difficult. It was only the engine oil temperature, not vital to see at night but never-the-less comforting. After a little swearing and cursing and the use of some mole grips to hold the bulb holder, I managed to persuade the new bulb into place. On with the lights and it looked like a new panel. Next was the replacement transmission oil gauge. This had been sent to Nimes in June for my first visit but hadn't arrived in time. The original gauge had been reading high and I had calibrated it against a thermometer so 140 deg.C on the gauge was an actual 80 deg.C and so on. For the last 6 months I had been going by crude felt tip marks on the dial. I took the new gauge out of the box; no instructions so replaced wire for wire with the old unit. There was one spare terminal with no wire to fit. I had a search to see if one had dropped off but nothing. I looked closely at the symbols on the back of the gauge - plus, signal, light and earth, but did this apply to the light or the spare terminal as surely the light needs an earth, but does the gauge. I now had two, so if I damaged one it wasn't a problem. I connected the spare terminal to earth, eureka! It worked normally registering 50 deg.C. I inserted the old gauge, it read the same. This had been the whole problem all along - no earth! How stupid did I feel, hours mucking around with boiling kettles and oven temperature sensors, measuring voltages and firing emails back to England in search of a solution. But then the experts who installed it in the first place should have known better!
While Sue listened to the World Service and reports of irregular accounting at Amazon.com………
I took the opportunity to clean up and wash my hair……..
Pleased with my morning's work our attention turned back to Brindisi or bust. We had to make Brindisi tonight so opted again for the AutoRoute. We picked it up at Vasto and cruised at a steady 90 km/h until Bari where the free dual carriageway started all the way to Brindisi. We were aiming for a 9 pm ferry and cruised into Brindisi shortly after lunch. We drove directly to the ferry terminal and realised you had to buy tickets from one of the numerous offices in the town. Back we went to stock up with food for the journey and find some tickets. We had budgeted £67 for Bumble and the two of us, so went in search of a 'deal'. Bumble is in fact quite imposing and people want to charge lorry prices. I spend a great deal of time describing length, width and weight compared to a Discovery, Defender or Range Rover which are all clearly charged as cars. Bumble is comparable to all, but we try to stay off the subject of height. Most ferry companies have a magic 2m height limit before charging you as a Camper up to 6m long. From a distance and standing on the pavement I managed to persuade the ticket guy that Bumble was a car and should definitely be charged no more than a minibus. He came round to my way of thinking, but did warn me that we may have to pay more at the port should they disagree.
ILR 90,000 for Bumble on the open deck where we could have access and sleep inside.
ILR 50,000 for the Peugeot
ILR 50,000 per person for deck passage
Plus ILR 12,000 departure tax per person and per vehicle payable in cash at the ferry port.
The best deal was on Med Link Ferries, it was due to depart at 5pm and loading had started at 3pm.
We raced to the port, a rather round about route, paid our departure tax and joined the mass of lorries queuing to get on Aphrodite II. There seemed little organisation or direction so we drove to the front until someone told us to stop and where to park.
Italian/Greek ferries are back on/roll off variety, so we watched for a while as numerous trailers were backed on followed by huge lorries.
Parked in front was a Belgian camper van so we started talking to the occupants Marc and Hilda. As we were standing chatting with Chaka on the lead a little grey cat appeared at the window of their camper, we weren't the only ones travelling with a pet.
Marc and Hilda have spent recent years working the summers in Europe and the winters travelling other continents. Two years ago they flew to Nepal, purchased 2 Enfield Motorbikes and travelled around for the winter. Last year they flew to South America with a back pack each containing a fold-up bicycle, excellent idea for getting away from the crowds. This year they were off round Greece, Turkey and beyond where ever that may take them - good luck.
Bumble and the Peugeot on deck waiting to sail.
There were reports of cages on board where dogs should be placed during the voyage, but no one showed us so Chaka stayed with Bumble and us on the open deck.
At long last we could relax and reflect on the last 5 days. We had covered 2,300 km, driven solidly snatching a couple of hours of sleep here and there and eventually reached Brindisi, unfortunately a day too late to make Athens. It had been a frustratingly slow journey; not one we wanted to repeat.
Interestingly I was looking at the cost of getting there. Two cars had driven identical routes, climbing the same hills and travelling at the same speeds. The Peugeot 405 was a 1.6 unleaded petrol with one driver and a dog but no luggage to speak of. Bumble is a Forward Control Land Rover fully expedition prepared weighing around 3 tons running on diesel. It only cost £20 more in diesel over that 2,300 km!
If Sue wanders what I think about whilst I am driving along she'll be disappointed to find out it is such boring statistics!
Sue had bought chicken for supper but as the ferry left the port of Brindisi, she was reluctant to start cooking feeling sure that it was not permissable on ferries for safety reasons. I assured her that it was OK and after a lot of discussion, she reluctantly started cooking, still muttering that she was sure it was wrong. The following morning, Marc and Hilda told us that they had seen a sign which clearly stated that cooking was not allowed. OOPS!
Sue set about cooking supper……..
………Sue straining the rice over the side, then settled down to bed.
The phone rang at 9 am and it was Colina wandering where we were. They had to return the hire car to Patras by lunchtime and as we were due in we could give them all a lift back - easy! Not quite.
Sue and I disembarked at around 11am and headed for the port road as instructed. There were no formalities, just drive out the gate onto the one way system. There was no parking on the port road and we were swiftly heading away having exited at the most westerly gate. I turned east back into town and then north back down to the port. Today was a festival and the road between the town and running parallel with the port was closed off to allow the street party to begin. We circled again and again getting frustratingly blocked by the street party and stuck in the westward flow each time. Going through the central square for the 4th time Sue was pushed passed me and we lost each other again. I headed as far east as possible then went north to hit the port road, success and within 5 minutes I came across Colina and my mother waving at the side of the road. Now we had to find Sue and my father who had gone off in search. A quick call to Sue to direct her eastwards and then down to the port and we were all re-united 20 minutes later.
Jon lead us back to Nafpaktos in his new car, introduced us to the scrum at the small ferry port between Rio and Andirrio. The ferries are like landing craft, they power into the dock with the door lowering and cars are driving off before the boat is tied up. No sooner has everyone disembarked than all the waiting cars reverse on in a mad scramble. Bumble was obviously worth a little more to them so we were waved on forwards and first, Jon just tucked in behind us escaping the mayhem.
We had a pleasant weekend seeing Nafpakos, taking everyone out for supper then realising they didn't take visa and we hadn't got enough cash (we managed to pay for coffees afterwards in the bar though). For those of you heading down to stay with Jon and Colina next year here are some of the sights:
We spent Monday getting Bumble's brakes seen to in Patras, but they had stopped leaking, and trying to get the gearbox mounts changed. Our insurance was due to run out on Tuesday, but £180 for 6 months third party when we only needed a week to get out of Greece was too much.
Our insurance actually expired in August when we had enquired in Gibraltar and had been offered third party only for £140 from Generali. On reflection we should have taken it and saved hundreds of pounds in extending our existing cover £150 (- thank you Helen for begging Zurich to extend by two months), £100 on a ferry to Samos and £100 pounds on a ferry from there to Greece.
Our only option was to island hop through Greece to Turkey rather than driving the 1,300 km to the border. We waved goodbye to the family on Tuesday evening and headed for Peraeus. Arriving at 10 pm all ticket offices were closed so we settled down amongst the trucks to sleep.
The next morning we booked our ferry to Samos Dr 39,600 (£68) and left that evening at 5 pm.
Waiting to board we watched a hilarious episode as 'Mr Bean' the customs official created havoc. He looked like Rowan Atkinson aged 30 and his manner was that of Mr Bean. At one point half his papers went flying down the dock and he had us in fits of laughter as he went scampering after them. We caught him with the digital camera but you cannot se the similarity. We tried to get him with a zoom lens but he soon got wise and we were quickly boarded out of his way.
As we sailed east with the three of us out on deck a huge cruise liner, the Costa Victoria, could be seen in the port. Coincidentally, the last time we had seen this boat was in Puerto Rico in March 1999 where we had met an old friend of Sue's, Anna Cantone who worked on board, wouldn't it be even more of a coincidence if she had been there in Greece.
Chaka was not allowed inside, so we had to spend the entire crossing on deck - it was a very long and cold night. Chaka had little patience, playing up at frequent intervals. We seemed to stop at all the islands. The Captain was extremely skillful at sailing full speed into a port, turning a swift 180 deg., reversing up to the dock, ejecting a few lorries and passengers then racing off to the next island. At one port a blue Fiat Punto raced out, paused, reversed, paused, drove forward, stopped. Then decided he should get back on the boat. Meanwhile an elderly gentleman had been carefully unloading his cardboard boxes onto the quayside. The Punto raced back at full speed flattening a few of the boxes. A war of words commenced until an officer intervened to get the ship underway again.
We arrived at Samos at 7am on Thursday morning having had a cold and sleepless night. We briefly enquired about ferries to Turkey but no one really knew, as it was now low season. The consensus of opinion was to try again on Monday. We headed for the most remote beach and crashed out for the rest of the day. Samos is actually the birthplace of Pythagoras, however I shall refrain from going off on a tangent (had to be said!). We spent Friday and Saturday doing a little tourism stocking up with supplies and then went in search of a remote beach and found the 'real beach'.
This is how we spent Sunday 5th November - Bonfire night.