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2011 From Greece to the UK PDF Printable Version E-mail


Margaret and Barry Williamson
April 2011

Continued from: A Journey through Northern Greece 2011

Running the Gauntlet at the Port of Patras  

Having decided on the ANEK ferry to Ancona for Saturday 2 April, we booked our passage by phone, filled a locker with freshly picked lemons and bade farewell to the Fligos family, our hosts at Camping Ionion Beach. After driving 15 miles to Amaliada to buy bottles of Olive Oil, Ouzo and Metaxa Brandy as gifts, plus a roast chicken for dinner, we headed for Patras along the increasingly bumpy New Nat Road. Joining the new (free) motorway, which runs inland through numerous tunnels, we avoided the centre of Patras until the exit for the port. It was a warm sunny breezy day and we felt very relaxed about the journey.

Then, approaching the sea front, we were unavoidably stopped in a long line at red traffic lights, the pavements lined with gangs of intimidating rough males. Call them refugees, illegal immigrants, sympathise if you must but they were terrifying. A crowd swarmed round our motorhome, climbing on the rear bike rack (which they bent), trying to untie the cycle cover. We could do nothing, stuck in the queue until the lights changed, with no sight of police or anyone else. Margaret shouted at them through the rear window until they jumped off as we began to move.

At the Terminal huge numbers of these men hung about. Pulling up in the usual place to collect our tickets, we were immediately boarded by 2 ruffians mounting the rear ladder. There was one single policeman, clearly in a panic, who directed us to drive to Port Gate One, saying 'We have a problem here'! Barry accelerated, dislodging the climbers, and we followed our instructions.

Once inside the port gates, the area was heavily defended by both police and army, while surging crowds glared in through the razor-wire. Margaret left Barry guarding the motorhome and walked over to the Ticket Offices, glad it was not dark. Returning, she found Barry next to a very familiar Hymer Dan, on his way home from a winter down at Finikounda, booked on the same ferry! Warm welcomes followed and we were all very relieved to have reached a safe haven.

Read the excellent if chilling series Destination Nowhere in the English languages newspaper 'Greek Reporter'.

Camping on Board ANEK Line 'Olympic Champion', Patras to Ancona, Italy

The camping deck (with electric hook-ups) was very quiet, with just 6 other vans (German or Italian) in addition to us and Dan. We piled into the Hymer for tea and chocolate biccies, exchanged books and DVDs, and had much to catch up on into the wee small hours.

It was a good smooth voyage across the Adriatic with a leisurely morning (lie-in,hower, coffee with Dan, chicken sandwiches), arriving at 2 pm (Italian time) in Ancona.

Note: In summer 2011 we learnt that ANEK ferries had been taken over by Superfast, leaving Minoan Lines as the sole ferry between Greece and Venice, and Superfast's only competitor on the Ancona route. Also, the ferry port in Patras has moved to a new site, a few miles west of the original one. Whether security has improved, we have yet to discover. (See the following links: New Port One and New Port Two).

Modena Services, A14 motorway, Italy     164 miles

A beautiful Sunday afternoon in Ancona, how peaceful compared with Patras and then ... As we followed closely behind a small Greek bus, leaving the ferry and driving slowly out of the port, a young swarthy man, absolutely covered in dust and dirt, dropped from beneath the rear of the bus, rolled out and, to our utter amazement, ran across the road and away! As he made one backward glance, with a smile of sheer triumph and satisfaction, we gave him a wave of sheer admiration the driver and passengers totally unaware of his secret passage. Where had he spent the night, hiding on board? And where would he go, carrying nothing (least of all, any ID!)? We realised that a bold few of the wretches we'd been cursing in Patras do make it to Italy. We were only thankful that he hadn't fallen in front of our wheels at speed an unthinkable scene.

It was 11 miles to the A14 motorway, past a lone fuel station (closed, being Sunday). Then 150 miles along the toll motorway, with the usual Coda (traffic jam) round the Bologna Ring, to Modena services where we'd arranged a rendezvous with Dan for the night. Fuel bought on the motorway was still less expensive than in Greece, where prices had soared a hint of worse to come.

The three of us ate like a Burger King and spent a good evening together before going our separate ways next day, when Dan headed for the Italian Riviera.

Camping Gottardo, Faido, Switzerland     192 miles     2,323 ft asl     39 Sw Fr

We continued along the motorway to Switzerland, without any hold-up on the Milan Ring and only a short delay at the Swiss border at Chiasso to buy our road pass. Vehicles over 3.5 tons, as we are, need a permit rather than the annual vignette. The minimum, allowing any 10 days in the next 12 months on Swiss roads (including the St Gotthard Tunnel), costs 32.50 Sw Fr (credit cards accepted). Good value compared with the toll for either the Frejus or Mont Blanc alpine tunnels.

We took a lunch break at Coldrerio services, 3 miles after the Swiss border, where we found that petrol cost less than in Italy (diesel more).

Leaving the A2 motorway at exit 43 (for Faido), it was less than a mile to the expensive but convenient campsite with its own bakery. By 4 pm we had filled the water tank and settled in over a pot of tea. A short walk leads from the back of the terraced camp to a splendid waterfall, a lovely stroll after a long drive.

Camping les Bouleaux (= Silver Birches), Phalsbourg, France     250 miles     970 ft asl     11 (ACSI Card discount), otherwise 13.50

We were away before 9 am, remembering the long queues previously found at the St Gotthard Tunnel, 10 miles further along the A2. In the event, we were through this, the longest alpine tunnel (17 km or just over 10 miles), in 15 minutes. After a coffee break at Gottardo Nord services, we continued through more tunnels, with glimpses of splendid scenery between, past Luzern to Basel, to tunnel under the Rhine and into Germany.

Immediately after the German border there is a huge service area, where we had lunch before continuing north up A5 (toll-free German motorways for all under 12 tons). Crossing the Rhine into France at Strasbourg, we continued  to Phalsbourg in Lorraine. The French motorway was also free at first, but we paid a toll (peage) of 7.80 for the last 3 junctions.

The campsite is a mile north of Phalsbourg (aka Vilsberg) on the N61, where we were welcomed by the new German/Dutch owners, proud parents of 8-month-old twins. As the ground was soft after rain, we parked on the path and enjoyed the peaceful woodland. WiFi will soon be installed, we're told.

Camping de l'Orient, Tournai, Belgium     269 miles     72 ft asl     15

Heading north on N61, we joined the A4 motorway for just 10 miles (J43 to J42: toll 2.50), then continued on N61 past Sarreguemines (French) and on to Saarbrucken (German), using a combination of highway and free motorway.

The German A620 took us north-west into Luxembourg, where we had a fill of cheaper fuel at the first services (petrol 1.30/litre). Reaching Belgium, we paused for a lunch break on the next services (a Best Western hotel, restaurant, lots of space but no fuel).

After passing Charleroi and Mons we finally turned off after 267 miles at Tournai, for an excellent all-year ACSI-listed campsite next to the Aquapark. It had been a long hot day, climbing to over 1,600 ft in Alsace and crossing 4 countries.

The following day was so sunny and warm that our 2 loads of dhobi dried on the line in less time than the machine took to wash them! After lunch we followed the 2-km 'Allain Quarries Walk' (described in a campsite leaflet).

This lovely route led along an old railway line to the River Scheldt/Escaut (depending which of Belgium's 2 parts it flows through), then past the old St Amand Church and cemetery, with its peaceful Notre Dame de Lourdes Grotto in a former quarry. Nearby was a monument to Herman Planque (a hero of the Belgian Resistance in WWI - a quarryman who refused to work for the occupying Germans, was thrown into prison in 1916 and died the following year). Continuing through the hamlet of Allain, we saw the remains of lime kilns at the Madelon Furnace and Marousse Furnace, and the workers' tied houses.

The 'Tournai Aqua Complex' (a huge indoor pool, outdoor lake and woodland), next to the campsite, has been built in the former Orient Chalk Quarry and we finished our walk with a visit.  

Ferry Port Car Park, Dunkirk, France     85 miles     Sea level!

On the way to the E42/N8 motorway, just over a mile away, we passed a shopping centre with generous parking and even a medical centre. The Lidl store proved good for French wines and cheeses at Belgian prices, which seemed lower.

Then it was free motorway into France and almost all the way to the ferry, pausing for lunch at services between Lille and Dunkirk. From exit 24 (Loon-Plage and Car Ferry), follow the signs to the DFDS/Norfolk Line Terminal. We did detour on the N1 towards Dunkirk town centre to shop at Auchan Hypermarket a mistake, as the car park was manically busy!

The ferry port has a large free car park (maximum stay 2 weeks!), ideal for the night before or after crossing the Channel here. The terminal building has toilets and sells tickets (though it costs less to book ahead on-line).

Arrival in Dover, England

After a quiet night on the car park, we drove round to check in at 9 am for the 10 am DFDS ferry. The 2.5 hour crossing was calm, arriving promptly in Dover at 11.30 am British time.

Before leaving Dover, we checked out the 'caravan parking' on Marine Parade, recommended by other motorhomers. We found that overnight parking is indeed free there between 6 pm and 9 am; outside these times it costs 0.90 per hour or 7 per day, pay and display, and most of the spaces were occupied by cars!

From Dover it was the familiar route of A20 and M20, gradually readjusting to driving on the left. The weather was surprisingly good for what was to be the hottest English April on record.

Continued after a short break in the UK: From the UK to Norway May-June 2011