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The Wilsons in Bulgaria and Greece 2013 PDF Printable Version E-mail


ADRIAN AND BRENDA WILSON IN BULGARIA & GREECE 2013

Brenda's Diaries October 2012 - June 2013

Introduction

For the third year, Brenda and Adrian drive east in their Fleetwood Flair motorhome, the one they sourced in the USA in 2008, explored that great country and then shipped it back to England.

Their journey took them out to Bulgaria through France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Hungary and Serbia.

After working on their Bulgarian house for some time, they set off on an extensive winter tour of Greece.

Returning to Bulgaria for more work on the house, they then travelled back to England through Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Germany, Holland, Belgium and France.

Brenda writes up the journey after they have returned to their home in Norfolk,  a considerable feat based on notes made at the time and her own unfailing memory.

Four slide shows of photographs are linked at the end of the travel log, adding colour and depth to the following written account.

England

After 4 months back at home (in Norfolk), which was supposedly our 'summer', although realistically it didn't materialize AT ALL (the wettest ever), we were ready once again to return to Bulgaria, to put in a bit more work feathering our new 'nest', hopefully enough for it to be habitable this time around! Our garden in Norfolk had been the most overgrown it had ever been, with grass waist high etc, and we also had a line of fencing panels blown down in some very strong winds, so this kept us busy for many a week or two. Thankfully our house was found just as we had left it - no burst pipes this year as Adrian had drained everything down - even the heating system.

Each year after all the driving (and living) in our motorhome for long periods at a time, we always find we have another long list of things to be attended to (this year was no different either) and we could not make our minds up whether to sell it and get something smaller and more economical that we could leave in Bulgaria and then fly in and out, or what to do exactly and we did look at a few other motorhomes but of course nothing gave us the space that we had become accustomed to. In the end we decided to hang on to our motorhome for another year, by which time we would be in our new little home.

So another MOT had to be sorted. We had 2 small cracks in our windscreen repaired (although one of them reappeared again very soon after!) and lots of squeaks and clonks needed attention. Both front suspension air bags had to be replaced and the problem of our engine which kept cutting out so much last trip had to be looked into for a cause. This could have been many, very different things and computerised motors are not really Adrian's scene! Anyway, he made and fitted a new awning himself (which was a big job) and also hung another thick set of curtains across our windscreen area to try and keep the cold out and heat in during the coming winter months. He also fitted some new lights (inside). I lined all the bedroom cupboards with bubble wrap - hoping it would help with all the condensation problems - and the whole interior had a thorough clean (including a steam clean) whilst Adrian cleaned and polished all the exterior. Even the fly screens came off for a much needed spruce-up.

We purchased a 125cc scooter as our mode of transport (when overseas) and so Adrian set about making a platform for this and devised a way to enable him to load and unload it fairly easily, remembering we may require the use of our spare wheel at any time (situated behind). He had to take the solar panel down (very heavy) to repair, as he found condensation making its way inside and therefore not able to work so efficiently, and also make up a cover to fit over the fridge area on the roof, as the existing one had disintegrated. Another gas fire had to be fitted, as the old one had let us down on too many occasions, the 'genny' had an overhaul, our water pump had to be repaired to take back to Bulgaria, and so it went on, with lots more minor things too, be it mechanical, body work or cosmetic.

In August our son-in-law (in Perth, Australia) found out that his father had terminal cancer and so they all (our daughter and 3 grandchildren) made plans to come back for a possible 6 month stay, which was difficult for them. Apart from the financial cost to them, they had to find a house-sitter and someone to look after their dogs and at that stage they had no passports as they had just been made Australian citizens (after 5 years) and their old passports were taken away, before they were issued with their new dual citizenship passports. Our eldest grandson had just started University too. However, after much organization they were able to book their flight to London, to arrive early in September and they even changed their flight date by bringing it forward. Very sadly, they arrived just a few hours too late and naturally they were all devastated. So although we had the pleasure of their company for several weeks, it could have been under far better circumstances. Our youngest son also moved into our house (from London) in September, whilst he studied for an honours degree as he wanted plenty of peace and quiet through the winter months but eventually we were ready for the next chapter in our lives . 

OCTOBER 2012 – The Start of the Journey

The loading and unloading of our camper becomes more and more tiresome, it's almost like moving house at times! Trying to make sure we have packed everything needed and this time leaving lots of instructions for our son too. So on 1st October we left Norfolk, along with our scooter, our inflatable canoe, a fixed water pump, a paraffin heater, some curtains and rails for our home, 2 very heavy worktops, an electric hedge trimmer, spade, shovel, pickaxe and many, many more tools, food and oddments. We drove down to Essex, not to our usual spot, but a little CL site at the Three Horseshoes, Takeley (at the end of the Stansted airport runway!) We had not been there before but needed to visit Adrian's parents the following morning before driving down to Dover. We arrived at Dover at 6.30pm, where we parked up as usual by the sea front. The morning P&O ferry left at 10.15am and we arrived in Calais an hour and a half later - 12.45 pm (French time).

France-Belgium-Germany

The afternoon's driving was not good, with heavy rain some of the time, very dark and dismal and the traffic was very, very slow going. In fact we have never known it so bad but then we were going round Brussels in Belgium at the time. We didn't manage to make too much headway and once again stayed on a very busy motorway service station with lots of huge transporters parked up beside us. We resigned ourselves to a very noisy night but it actually turned out to be a quiet night, which we could hardly believe, and not cold at all, although it did rain all night. The rain did not deter early morning grass cutters however!

That day the weather was even worse, with constant rain all day, which was very tiring for Adrian competing with all the lorries. At least we did not have any hold ups or road works anyway, well I say that but our motorhome did decide to die on us once again (as last year), even though Adrian had thought and hoped that he had cured the problem with all the possibilities he could think of. So we were none the wiser but we didn't have to stop long anyway and in fact it didn't happen again for the whole journey, so maybe it's an improvement anyway! That evening we had a job to find a place to park up, down by a wide river in Kitzingen (Wurzburg, Germany), as it was crammed with German campers all the way along but we did find ourselves a spot eventually and in the evening we walked across the river into town and it did look a very nice place.

Austria-Hungary

Next country was the dreaded Austria! We are not keen at the best of times, as previously stated, as it is so expensive (fuel) and there is very little LPG. The price of the 'Go Box' appears to have increased since last year and cost us 100 Euros. We were unable to find anywhere (once again as before) to hand this in before leaving the country. Apparently when it bleeps 4 times consecutively as you pass under each sensor, it is then time to top up and ours had already been bleeping twice for some time, so we may not have had much if any funds left! We had little choice other than to carry on, 'Go Box' still in our possession! If we were to go back home that way, we would be able to find out what, if anything, was owed to us and thus use it again, but who knows. Of course this is just our scenario - anyone else, 3.5 tons or under and who does not run on LPG fuel, would not have any of our problems. 

A total difference in the weather though, with blue skies all day and it became increasingly warmer as the day continued, with the same again the following day too as we drove into Hungary but the vignette (for our 2 days) had increased since last year and cost us another 28 Euro. Continued on and around Budapest - we do not have the help of our SatNav by then as ours no longer works after Austria - but we did not encounter any real problems.    

Serbia

However, Serbia in comparison (with the Dinar as currency) was very good, although anyone hoping to get insurance at the border would probably be out of luck and would therefore need to sort that out before setting off (if possible)! We tried but without success and so were most probably uninsured! Anyway a quick glance round the door (at border), no questions asked, other than where we were going, no cash exchanged hands - and we were away. Very quiet motorway, reminding us of the Egnatia Odos in Greece, when first opened. Generally roads in good condition and a total cost in tolls of 24 Euros (yes, they will take Euros). South to Belgrade, which was not much of a problem and continued on until we arrived in Velika Plana, where we spent the night at a McDonalds with free wi-fi and did not encounter or see any trouble or bother whatsoever.

Further south (the following day) we turned off the E75 to Nis on E80 before the border into Bulgaria and eventually down to Sofia. The only section we found we had to take extra care over came after Nis, where there was a fairly short gorge which was narrow and twisty (but pretty) and with a number of tunnels. Several of those tunnels had NO lights whatsoever and we found them to be quite unnerving! So to anyone thinking of taking this route anytime, just be aware, especially those of you who have large outfits!

Well, the route (via and through Serbia) was quicker and it certainly beats driving through Romania at the best of times, so now that things are so much more relaxed, I think this is the best route to take.

Bulgaria

We were soon crossing our final border into Bulgaria again but I have to say that we did encounter our worst road conditions of the trip, driving north round Sofia. There was no motorway, although I find that very hard to believe. The roads are disgusting and because we had to drive so slowly, it seemed to go on forever and we were unable to make it all the way to our property in Harmanli that day. We arrived in Plovdiv just as the sun was setting and after re-setting our clocks, another hour forward, decided to stop for the night at a small garage, which turned out to be good and quiet and we even had the use of the internet with free wi-fi again.

Unfortunately, the road from Plovdiv to Haskovo was also appalling (for us anyway), so it was shake, rattle and roll again, our poor RV! One of these days we might be pleasantly surprised and shocked to find the motorway complete but for now there's not a lot going on, they seem to have come to a standstill!

Arrived in Harmanli at lunchtime, so parked up at Lidl, shopped there, had lunch and also shopped at Billa. We then went straight up the hill to our place at Trifoncheto. Luckily, nothing had been touched and everything seemed to be just as we had left it in May last. They had had a very long, hot, dry summer and we could see just how parched and brown everything was looking but our little wooden place didn't seem too warped or twisted, considering the heat! We were informed that they had not had a drop of rain since we left! Our one big problem is that of water or should I say lack of water! We'll just have to see how it goes.

Of course our garden was a jungle once again too. Our neighbours didn't appear to have made much more progress since May. Maybe it had been too hot for them. We eventually managed to make ourselves level and secure and settled ourselves down for the next couple of months' building work. We had made it to Bulgaria safely once more and our motorhome and driver had done really well. Apart from that one hiccup when the 'van had lost power, all had gone smoothly and to plan and we couldn't really have asked for a better journey. Even though it's still too far and takes too long, we had achieved it in 6 days, which wasn't bad going, and this was the quickest we had ever managed it before (a slow drive of 6-7 hours each day).

Back to Building in Bulgaria

First job for Adrian was to try and get our water pump up and running, which once again  proved to be a difficult task and to make matters worse we found very little water in our well (due to the hot, dry summer presumably?) and we were unsure how to tackle this situation. Anyhow, we unloaded some of the things from our RV. It's always surprising what actually does come out of it but we're sure she breathed a sigh of relief!! Adrian also managed to get our old car going again and we hoped it was going to last a little longer for us if possible and he re-attached the wheels to our trailer too. My first job was the out-of-control garden (especially the bramble bushes). 

Unfortunately our grapes had not done very well. I think maybe they had ripened much earlier this year, due to the weather they had had, but of course, as explained last year, we are not here to look after them and think they need to be sprayed too. It wasn't a good year for the nut trees either. Very few almonds and hardly any walnuts at all, as they had all gone black. Everyone else's were the same too. Too hot and not enough rain. So anyway I made a start on it but I was only scratching the surface at that stage. At least this year we had brought some hedge trimmers with us, which I was able to use. These helped although it was all quite back-breaking work and we both realised just how unfit we had become! All the traipsing up and down our hill was certainly telling us we had arrived, and I felt we needed to be doing outside jobs, to make the most of the good weather before the winter set in, although in actual fact those first couple of weeks were too hot. Sometimes you just can't win!

Next, Adrian bought and fixed up all of our guttering along with a couple of barrels to catch the rain water for us to use. Every little bit helped. Then he built our decking out at the back, together with wooden railings and he also made some wooden steps up to it. He had decided that the decking would be an ideal place for him to make our kitchen units. This task was next on the list and he set about doing just that, using recycled wood from the old 'chalet'. So that kept him busy for a while, plus also plumbing in the sink (which we also used from the old chalet), assembling the worktop (brought from home) and the making of a couple of drawers (one thing I know he hates making). He put a few tiles round the units (found in our cellar from the previous owners) and grouted them in. He finished doing all the lights and light fittings (the ones in the lounge having to be repositioned) and made and hung all the internal doors.

When eventually I had finished strimming, clearing and raking our garden, including between the grapevines (which took me about 4 weeks), I then started the staining of the kitchen units and internal doors. These required 2 coats of stain and 2 coats of varnish too. So this also kept me out of mischief for a while! Later I also stained all the window frames inside while Adrian did the exterior.

We took our scooter out on a few occasions, which was something very new to me. I had not been riding pillion before, well at least not since the 1960's when Adrian had a motorbike that we used to ride around on. We didn't go far the first time, just into town, back up to the lakes and to the village of Nadezhden. I was hanging on for dear life and thought I was welded to the bike when it came to getting off but guessed I would get used to it and enjoy it more the next time around! Unfortunately, the next time around, the sun failed to make an appearance and it was misty and cold. I had not reckoned on just how cold you get in the wind, otherwise it would have been quite enjoyable. 

We rode to Biser and saw Matt at Sakar Hills Camping, who also introduced us to his new Bulgarian girlfriend (Petra) who seemed very nice. We then went down to the village for a quick look before riding back home again. We were very impressed with how quickly the builders had built a number of brand new homes, replacing the many homes washed away or demolished by the floods in February of this year. Perhaps we should have bought one in the village after all! Their new homes looked very posh in comparison to what little they had, so I think they have done very well for themselves at the end of the day, although of course no-one would want to experience what they went through that awful night!

On another sunny day we ventured even further. We packed up our lunch, dressed ourselves up in lots of layers of clothes, extra socks and gloves etc and rode all the way to Glavan (which was about 25/30 miles), passing through the villages of Bulgarin, Ovcharovo and Pomoshtnik (don't you just love these names) on the way, and Rogozinovo on the way back. When we got to Glavan we sat in the village square eating our lunch in the autumn sunshine, trying to warm ourselves up (the cold is very unforgiving on your knees and legs on a bike)! We had a bit of a wander, then decided we could try and see where an English couple (that we vaguely knew from Biser campsite) had bought a place and were living in a big American motorhome whilst building. I did spot their RV and we managed to ride down and find where their place was but we didn't see anybody about at all and so we started to make our way back again. Neither of us could really say we were very impressed with either the village (they are all basically the same) or the location or area. It was miles away from any town and I would imagine they get a lot of snow up there. It was also getting uncomfortably close to 3 different power stations. So it wouldn't be for us but each to their own I guess. In general though, the countryside scenery was very pleasant.

NOVEMBER – Still in Bulgaria

Anyhow, back to building! We purchased half a ton of logs (one trailer load) and of course they all had to be unloaded and carried up to the top of the hill to our wood store. Hopefully this will be enough to be getting on with for now, if it does become cold and we decide we want to stay for Christmas or longer. I did light up the 'Kamena' (wood-burning stove) on one of the days, in order to cook my Christmas pudding which I had managed to make, as I did last year too. Adrian cut back the hedge, on top of the bank, at the back of our property, as he also did last year, which makes a real difference to the sunshine quota into our place through the winter months. So that helped enormously. We found a place in the town where they take in your washing and we were very pleased with the results. All washed, dried and folded for 6 Lev (about 3 euros) per 5 kg load. This helped a great deal with our water shortage problem.

We had decided to extend our balcony at the front, in line with the decking at the back, so Adrian mixed up some sand and cement and then concreted 3 concrete posts into the ground. It was quite a challenge for him to figure out how to join on the extension to the existing balcony, without having wooden posts in the ground (as they always rot in the end) and in order for it to be strong and safe but without putting any extra weight on the property itself (and also aesthetically pleasing from the ground, of course). Anyway, after much thought, he had decided how he was going to tackle this hurdle and set about erecting his 3 wooden uprights and bolting them to the concrete posts already set in place. All in all, the balcony turned out to be a big, heavy and awkward job for Adrian. He was having to work from the ladder most of the time and was up and down like a yo-yo. His poor knees and joints complained with every move again! He completed the job though and then made up the railings. We had been able to use several of the metal railings which had been in use on the old building (the one we pulled down). Adrian sanded them all down for me and I painted them gold. We think they should look quite attractive.

I had 6 huge bonfires again this year, so the garden was clear and tidy, for then at least. Our water situation didn't get any better though as we had no rain at all. We couldn't complain about the weather otherwise though, as it had been much better and warmer than the last 2 autumns. Just right for building and working. We asked a couple of Welsh people (Yvonne and Eifion) up to have a look one day (we bumped into them in the town). We had first met them at Shirley and Martin's over at Kolarovo. It wasn't good weather at all that day (for the views) and in fact it was cold, but they described our place as a 'Hansel and Gretel' home! Presumably because of its size?

DECEMBER - In Greece

As there was heavy snow forecast for early December, we decided it was time for us to move on - hopefully south to somewhere warmer! We had made the decision not to visit Turkey this year, as our insurance had proved to be very expensive. So after ensuring that everything was safe to go, we were just about ready. We had just filled our water tank and barrels (luckily) when our well ran dry! So we had indeed picked just the right time to disappear!

We made it safely out of our lane and back on the road again. At the Greek border, we were checked over fairly thoroughly (even though there is no need for any checkpoint any more) by an officious looking young lady who wanted to look in all rooms, including the toilet and even in our FRIDGE! Well, that's a first. I don't know what she expected to find in there, perhaps she was just feeling hungry! Anyway, as the motorway (Egnatia Odos) still had not been completed, we rattled and rolled along past Alexandroupolis and Komotini and on, trying to find a beach (near Fanari) we had stayed on once before. It was difficult to find then and we had about as much luck this time too. However we somehow found ourselves on a different beach at an archaeological site, although we were unable to find anything historical. It was a very, very peaceful spot.

Upon leaving the next morning we lunched at Lagos Port, where we had stayed the night last year, continuing on round Kavala and Nea Paramos (where we had also stayed, several times) and parked ourselves on yet another beach just past Nea Kerdylia (before Thessaloniki). This would have been a very good spot (with no barking dogs) had it not been for the terrific wind and rain and the very, very rough sea! It was all so noisy in the motorhome (even though, normally we love to listen to the waves). It rained quite heavily all night and I was beginning to panic (after last year's floods) that the sea was encroaching too far, even though Adrian had said we would be OK as we were on slightly higher ground. We had a pretty restless night nonetheless. In the morning we came far too close to being stuck down at the bottom of the steep hill as the rain had washed lots of loose gravel down the lane. We tried once and had to back down again, making huge deep muddy tyre ruts in the process, so Adrian had to put his foot down and keep going quite fast (even though it was very rough and bumpy), yet still we were skidding around and we narrowly avoided sliding into a deep ditch! We just about made it anyway but needless to say, in a muddy, sad state!

After this we drove round Thessaloniki and south down to another beach at Paralia. The previous night must have been rough there too, as it was apparent that the sea had breached and flooded the road. We parked up across the road and walked round the dead holiday ghost town in the evening but it was bitterly cold there. A quiet, if cold and icy night followed. We stocked up at a nice Carrefour supermarket the next morning (near Katerini) and were shown the way out by a lady who drove ahead of us, as we were too high to drive under the underpass.

That day did not turn out to be a very good day. You never can figure out what you are actually paying for on Greek motorways! Some sections charge, some don't but we kept getting charged for sections that we had only been on for 5 minutes. It doesn't make any sense and becomes so frustrating. I have to say though that Mount Olympos looked stunning that day, with blue skies and its snow capped peaks. Also the Tembi Valley gorge was quite beautiful and we saw Orias castle too but we made the mistake of trying to get to the water again at a little marina. Although it was all lovely, we didn't get to the marina as the signs were not good enough and we could not trust the narrow roads. We did get to a place where the ferries cross to Chalkida on the island of Euboea but it was too busy with nowhere to stop, which was a shame as it was very pretty there. So of course it was getting late by then and we had no choice but to drive out again which was hilly and twisty, to get back on the main road and continue on to Lamia.

We did get to Lamia but as it was dark and I did not think we would be able to see where to go for Thermopyles, we parked up at the back of a Service Station for the night, which turned out to be OK, and continued on in the morning, easily finding the place we were to stay for the next week. We last visited nearly 3 years ago and we thought then that the place was being overrun with gypsies and others who were ruining the whole large area for everyone else. Apart from all their rubbish, they were using the bushes as their toilet, washing their clothes in the thermals and stripping the trees for their firewood. So it wasn't too much of a surprise to find most of the area fenced off! We asked at the Police station and were told camping was prohibited, although they did add that we could stay for couple of nights near the waterfall area of the thermals. So at that point we didn't think it was going to be much fun. However, we had a wander around and found other campers down the bottom, some on the other side of the road but all across the thermal 'stream'.

We spoke to a Swiss bloke, camping on his own, who had been there all week and he said it was OK to stay down there. After our lunch we went under the waterfall and were treated to a hot, vigorous, pounding and pummelling of our aching bodies. Then we moved our motorhome up to the other end and positioned ourselves right by our very 'own' little section of the thermal 'stream'. We had a very enjoyable week there, walking, dipping in various sections of the hot water, riding into Lamia on the scooter and collecting lots of wood to enable me to have a fire each evening whilst we bathed in the thermals. The downside to being there was that it was very, very cold and on the days we had any sun, it was gone again by 1.30 pm due to the mountains around us, but the plus side was, when you were cold, you just jumped in the water which was pure heaven, especially after dark when you could just lay there looking up at the moon and stars and where we saw loads of shooting stars too. 

We have known the place to be plagued by mozzies but as it was so cold we hardly saw any at all. It was a lovely week, although we did have a problem with our leisure batteries (again) as they were not holding their charge, so it was candles all round and it was a good job we had plenty of gas fires! On our last day we again went up to the waterfall and enjoyed ourselves there before we left. We drove down to get filled up with water (in our motorhome tank) when an elderly Greek man and his wife made it clear they were in need of some help as they had become stuck in a muddy lane which goes up to fortifications.

We think they may have been tending their olive grove but they did have a 4x4 motor. Adrian went off to see if he could help but the bloke was getting in a worse position and had almost slid into a ditch, as he seemed reluctant to follow instructions from Adrian and of course they couldn't communicate with each other! Adrian returned, asking for my help to push and to bring a saw to cut some of the trees away. We filled some buckets with stones to take up for traction and also asked the Swiss chap if he would lend a helping hand. He came along on his bike and brought with him a winch. Eventually, after some time, cutting trees, fitting the winch and with us all pushing (in mud) we managed to get him free of his predicament! Needless to say they were very grateful to us for all our help and it was handshakes and hugs all round! We hadn't gone very far that morning.

From Thermopyles we drove over the mountains, which gave warning of the use of snow chains in bad weather. Luckily we did not see any snow about that day and it was a pretty route with some colourful trees, snow on the mountain tops and attractive little villages, nestled in the hillsides. Later we got back to the coast again with lots of nice beaches and bays. Eventually we arrived at the Rio-Antirio bridge for our night's stop where we had stopped before. It rained all night with thunder and lightning and I was rather disappointed that the bridge was not lit up with the lovely yellow and blue colours that we had seen last time we were there. We did not know the reason why but could only guess that in Greece's current financial situation, maybe they were cutting back! In the morning we boarded the ferry (always boarded by reversing on) over to Patras which cost us 11 Euros, not much more than last time, 3 years ago. It only takes 20 mins and is much cheaper than driving across the bridge!

We had intended stocking up with food in Patras but saw nothing on our route and driving through Vartholomio could find nowhere to park, so we found ourselves at the Ionion Beach campsite (Glyfa) before we knew it and decided we would just have to 'make do'. Their prices had not increased (since 2010) and we had water, electricity, lashings of hot water and wi-fi included and it was extremely quiet with no-one to bother us at all. We parked up beside the sea, which was lovely, although it always seems to be very rough and quite noisy. However, we do always find it a bit isolated from shops etc with not much to do, but we walked and took the scooter for a few spins and caught up with some chores etc. Unfortunately we both picked up some sort of virus (cough and cold) whilst there, which was slow to shift, so we felt a bit jaded over the following week, which included Christmas.At Pyrgos we found a big Carrefour supermarket so we had a good choice to stock up with before we continued on to the Katakolo port, where we had also stayed once before.

Adrian put up our little tree, complete with lights there. We definitely didn't expect to be pleasantly surprised by a visit from a huge cruise ship, which silently loomed up before us in the morning. We had seen them there last time but that was in the Spring, so we assumed that being December, it would be very quiet. It would appear though to be an all year round cruise event at that port with plenty of guests enjoying their Christmas holiday trip around the Greek islands. It seems impossible to believe that the ship comes in so far and in such a relatively small area, although it does reverse out of the harbour very, very slowly on its exit route! Obviously the water must be very deep there but you could almost reach out and touch the ship! It stayed all day, letting everyone off to have a good look round Katakolo. In the evening we watched as it slowly and majestically glided away, disappearing out to sea again, all decked out with festive lights. It was quite an eerie but spectacular sight to see.

We stopped for lunch at the Kaifa Lake, the next morning. There are also hot springs in a cave there which we swam in 6 years ago, when it was all completely free of charge. However, we found everything had changed. There was a new building there, it was all fenced off and what's more everything was closed with nobody around. As we sat eating our lunch we watched as several people came along and decided to scale the high gate and perimeter fencing to gain access to the place. They were inside the premises for some time and generally messing about, although I didn't see anyone go in the water. I got the impression that they were quite disgruntled that what used to be a free bathing pool for the locals and others, had now become so inaccessible to all!

Anyway, we left there trying to get to a lagoon at Navarino Bay (north of Pylos) although, as is often the case, we couldn't understand the signage and ended up out of our way somewhere else! I had wanted to be settled at the lagoon for Christmas but I think it was just as well as it turned out because when we did arrive there a few days later, there were signs everywhere to say 'no camping'. We didn't even really know where we were, other than on a beach near the lagoon, but in the end we stayed 2 nights at a very pleasant little spot, which was very, very quiet and just what we needed for our Christmas Day dinner, with rest and relaxation on a warm, sunny beach for the afternoon!

On to the lagoon at Navarino beach bay, Gialova, which we found to be very close by. It was certainly beautiful, quiet and peaceful but as it's all part of a nature reserve you cannot camp there. Lots of bird life there and we saw many flamingos, amongst various other varieties. After our lunch we set off on a walk, along the water's edge and across sand dunes to try to reach Nestor's cave. There is only one sign at the car park and nothing else whatsoever. It was just lucky that we happened to meet a lady who could speak English and also knew where the cave was, otherwise there would have been no chance AT ALL of finding it! We had to turn back part of the way and then climb a very steep hill. After all that it was not very impressive anyway and as we were being pestered by mozzies nearly all of the way, we didn't hang around.  

The castle we had also hoped to see was closed due to dangerous structures. When we got back to the bay there were a few people skin diving and snorkelling. We then made our way along to Pylos for 2 nights. We have been there once before and it's a lovely small town with little narrow streets on a harbour/marina. Throughout the mornings it becomes a hive of activity but in the afternoons when the shops shut it becomes a ghost town until the evenings, when the shops re-open and it comes alive once again. Adrian tried his hand at a spot of fishing and we also walked up to the castle, although we did not go in.

Next stop was Methoni, another very quiet, sleepy little harbour with a castle. We had our lunch there and looked around for somewhere to park up for the night. There was a little beach by the castle but it looked as though it was liable to flood so, although we did park up there one of the days, we moved further along (still on the water's edge) for the night time. We stayed for a couple of days and had another good look all around the castle and the area around, which is free in winter (we have been several times before). We looked at a beautiful church in the village. Freshly painted and tidy outside, with the inside very decorative with lots of carved, ornate wood, dripping with gold just about everywhere and with lavish icons and huge chandeliers, this was probably one of the best examples we have ever seen.

JANUARY 2013 – New Year at Finikounda

On to Finikounda, where we parked on a campsite (Camping Thines) and managed to stay for 8 whole nights! We have been there twice before. Their prices had even been reduced since 3 years ago! So very reasonable, as included was electricity, wi fi, and even the washing machine was free in the winter. You don't get bothered by anyone and it was very quiet, with only one other couple. Our only gripes are the trees, which we always struggle with and the fact that there is never anyone there when you want them - not even to pay up! They did however let us park on a corner on the pathway (on the front overlooking the sea) which turned out to be a good spot. We wouldn't have been able to do so if they had been busy but then neither would we have coped with the trees. We bumped into Rose and Alf, who we have met a few times and who live in a small village about 2 miles away, so we chatted for a while, as you do. 

In the evening we walked down to the village and church. We don't really understand how nearly all the graveyards in Greece seem to have brand new, large, elaborate graves and headstones but they all looked very well kept and many, many of them had lit candles or lamps which was all very surreal, like lots of little stars dotted around in the night sky! Adrian took our scooter off here (Finikounda) and we had several rides out, one almost back into Methoni, one up very high in the hills (beautiful views) and another as far as Faneromeni beach and on to Koroni, where we looked all round the castle there, free of charge. There are people living and working inside the castle walls, where there are several olive groves. It's another pretty little harbour and we had hoped we might be able to overnight park with the motorhome there but it was very narrow and we doubted we could get through.

We saw the New Year in there (Finikounda campsite), which was a very quiet affair - just how we like it. We also managed, for the first time this trip and indeed in Greece, to launch our little canoe there (in the sea) and we both (and also separately as well) paddled quite a long way. It's not quite like a lake or lagoon but we managed OK if not too rough, although one of the days I was on my own and experienced how a 'rip' takes you out when you don't even realise you have been taken out. So I came in, but I can see how easy it is to get into trouble. We also sunbathed on the beach, although at times it was rather windy.

The road out from Finikounda (going east) is very hilly, narrow and twisty and seems to go on forever but it is also a very pretty drive if you are lucky enough to have good weather. We had to wait in one village for the owner of a car to come out and move his car as we could not get through. He had parked it a mile from the kerb! On to Petalidi next which was nothing special but with plenty of parking space for us, being very quiet and without any disturbances, it was more than adequate. We stocked up at Messini, then had to negotiate Kalamata, which is a big town. We had been told there was LPG somewhere in the town, but we didn't actually know the whereabouts. We did eventually manage to find it, although then also realised just how expensive it was there!

After this we were on new territory as we had always missed out on the Mani, preferring or needing to go straight across to Athens, so it was a different landscape with fresh views of Greece. It was very hilly, twisty and narrow but also very picturesque countryside with lots of mountain ranges and quaint villages. It must have been a very quiet, lonely existence. The Mani is famous for its tower houses of which there are many. There are new ones springing up all over the mountains but we couldn't say we were particularly keen. We then drove along the west coast to Kardamyli which we liked very much, despite a near disaster there (in the Vyros Gorge, near Kardamyli)! We managed to park up at a very tiny, picturesque, colourful harbour with a tiny island with the remains of an old castle. There were a few people with a boat, who had been working over on the island tending their olive grove. The sea was a little rough near the island or we may have been tempted to take our canoe across but Adrian seemed to think it may have been a private island anyway. It was a lovely quiet spot, there was even a tap and we had free wi-fi. Just a few fishermen and a French couple in a 'whizz bang' who joined us for a couple of nights. The attractive, upmarket, beautiful stone-built village was very, very quiet, as it all centred around the summertime tourist trade.

The following day, the weather was beautiful, although a very chilly wind and we wanted to walk some of the Vyros gorge trail (there are many trails around the area) so we packed up lunch and the necessary things and set off into the village first, where we enquired about a trail guide leaflet, but all they had to offer were very pricey maps, of which we would have no further use! So we photographed the 'map' on the board at the start of the trails and walked a short way up to the 'old Kardamyli town', where they were doing restoration work on the buildings there (also some Mycenean tombs nearby) and up to Agia Sofia church where we stopped and ate our lunch with splendid views over Kardamyli, the sea, the gorge and snow-capped mountains (Taygetos) and with lots of very small villages dotted around the mountainsides too.

It was really lovely and I had remarked on this and how much I was enjoying the walk, the scenery and the sunshine. We hadn't really gone very far and we decided to walk further to the monasteries. We passed one which we could see from the road we were on, although we did not go down and continued on to see Moni Satiros. You have to trek down and down and down, which in itself seemed quite a long way, to the bed of the gorge that you then have to cross unless going back the same way. I had been expecting to cross water, as this is what you are warned of in my book, but was very surprised to find the gorge completely dry as a bone, just huge white pebbles and this is a very long gorge too. Anyway we had a quick look at the deserted monastery and knowing we had a fairly difficult hike out of there we did not hang around.   

Now the path thus far had been brilliant, you could have driven a 4x4 along it and the signs had all been easy to follow but not so from the monastery onwards! The first part was very steep and it seemed to go on forever but eventually we came to a very, very small village high in the mountains which was semi-derelict and we saw a signpost for a trail to another village (Kalyves) and this was the village we needed to get to before going down to Kardamyli again. So off we went, following all the same signs for our route but after initially descending a little way we found ourselves going up higher and higher and further and further away from where we wanted to go. We could see by then we were higher than nearly all the little villages dotted around the mountain and also at that time the markings we had been following just stopped! So we turned back.

We saw a couple of cars, so made our way over to them, only to find they had been abandoned, so nobody was about. A little later we did see a couple of men working on their olive grove, so we asked them the way to Kardamyli and one of them who could speak fairly good English was very clear in his instructions to take a right turn and then another. So thinking they knew, we trekked off again, assuming we had enough time to get back to our motorhome without too much difficulty. We did exactly as they had said and found ourselves at a dead-end cattle farm, with not a soul in sight! By that time we had really had enough and were getting tired of walking. What had started as such a lovely day was fast turning into a bit of a nightmare.

We were going up and down, round and round, back and forth and really in the end didn't have a clue where we were walking. By that time we had been walking for about 5 or 6 hours and were becoming increasingly worried that we would have to spend the night on the mountainside! The sun was setting and it was getting very cold and although we had come prepared for the day's hike (we both had backpacks) we were definitely not geared for a 'sleep over'! We had no torch, no matches, no food left, only a dribble of water and no extra clothing or blankets to keep us warm.

We then made the decision to try and retrace our steps and make our way back to the tiny village that we had passed through some hours previously, to try and get help. Realistically, neither of us was sure we could make it - either before dark or before our legs gave up - but I guess survival instincts kicked in and we were definitely going to give it our best shot and not be defeated that easily! So we pushed on for what seemed to go on forever, eventually arriving back at the village just as it was getting dark. It was a nice feeling being among civilisation but we didn't know what to expect there or even what to say, if the few people who lived there were unable to speak any English. We spent a few minutes looking to see if anybody was about outside but all was quiet. I think there were only 3 people/couples in residence and we saw a chink of light through someone's front door and decided to ring the bell!  

Well, who would have believed that we were about to be two very, very fortunate people. A lady opened the door and as we asked if she could speak English, she told us that she WAS English. I'm not sure I would even have answered the door (Adrian is always telling me not to answer the door after dark) and this lady living all on her own was being confronted by 2 tired, backpacking strangers. What's more she asked us in, gave us a drink and offered to drive us back down to Kardamyli, even though she was nervous of driving in the dark. She couldn't have been more hospitable and it made us realise that there are still good people left in this troubled world in which we live! From her village it actually took about half an hour driving back to our motorhome (our little home that we thought we would not see that night) and I couldn't believe just how far it was.

She wouldn't take anything for her kindness, although we did leave a note on the back seat of her car. What a saviour she was and she told us about a man who had gone missing on the mountain and apparently he was never found again and also about the fact that her daughter and her boyfriend had lost the path and very nearly come unstuck once too! It was around 7 pm when we arrived back and I don't think we had ever been so happy to sit down and relax in our own surroundings after having walked for around 7 hours in all. We had really thought it was going to be a very cold night 'under the stars' but we slept well (in our own bed) that night!

We left in the morning, not stopping at Stoupa, where apparently a lot of Brits have bought property but we didn't like it much. We settled for Neo Itylo, a large wide bay, good for surfing I imagine, with a castle on the top. A sign said campers could stay in the car park, so we did, along with boats, tractors, diggers etc, but we were beside the water and it was very quiet anyway. There were lots of new, unoccupied tower houses, which are so popular everywhere on the Mani but many of the towns and villages are just like ghost towns, only coming to life (I guess) in the summer months.       

During the next week we had plenty of rain, thunderstorms and very windy conditions starting that night and we couldn't believe it when in the morning we saw a fishing boat coming in, as the water was very, very rough, but they certainly did struggle trying to get moored up in the harbour. Anyway we did manage a walk up to the castle before we left, although it was further and steeper than we thought and started raining quite heavily when we did arrive at the top and there wasn't even much to see as there was not much left of it, but it blew the cobwebs away anyway. As we drove on further along the peninsula it became more and more stark and barren, barely a tree in sight, but as I mentioned plenty of new 'tower' houses dotted about here there and everywhere. At Stavri we tried to get down to a causeway and another castle but it was too narrow for us and so we ended up at Gerolimenas - a lovely little, white pebble beach bay. Another camper was parked in the car park and so we also stayed, in fact spending three nights there, as the weather improved somewhat for a short time at least. 

We were visited by a herd of cows that evening, which didn't seem to be with anyone at all, just wandering around aimlessly along the front. Next stop was Vathia and we had a good look round the old derelict tower houses there. Some of the rooms still had ancient, original beds and toilets etc in them and reminded me of the day we first looked around a property we once bought in Ireland after it had been derelict for 50 years! The rooms were so very small. The village is high up on a hilltop and because of the design, almost looks like a castle from a distance and even the new tower houses (not in Vathia) have been built to look like crumbled down castles. It's certainly different in the Mani. After our lunch we drove right down to the end but the roads were very narrow, hilly and twisty and one of the switchbacks was so acute we were unable to get round in one go, let alone trying to pass anyone whilst having a sheer drop my side and wondering if the edges of the roads were likely to collapse at any moment!

We continued on to Port Kagio, a strange place with no real access road along the front and nowhere to stay so we drove back to Gerolimenas again for our second night, being all on our own that night. The next day was warm and sunny so Adrian took our scooter off and we rode up into the hills to several little villages and also back to Stavri again to find the causeway, which was along a very rough track, down a fairly steep hill. You can only get so far, the rest has to be on foot. We did start to walk down but it was further than we thought and as I hadn't really got suitable shoes on we decided to turn back, so we didn't actually get on to the causeway or see any of the castle but we looked through our binoculars and were able to see that there wasn't much left of that castle either. We had stunning views from there though, over a very blue sea and mountains. We rode back and then Adrian inflated our canoe and I paddled around the bay until the sun went down.

We left Gerolimenas and found ourselves in Aeropoli and realised we had missed our turn off as we had wanted to see the caves at Pyrgos Dirou. So we turned around and drove back. We could get no concessions on the tickets, as apparently Greek men retire at 68 and women at 65, so we   paid the full price and did think it was rather expensive but we thought the caves must have been the best ones we had ever seen. There was only us and another couple (we only waited for 10 mins) and we were punted round in a little boat for over half an hour and then walked the last section (on your own, which is better as you don't need to hurry) which takes about 15 minutes.

An absolute maze of tunnels which meandered about for what seemed like miles. In places we had to duck and dive as it is very narrow and low. It was colourful, spectacular and beautiful and the reflections in the water made it appear you were floating in space at times. A fairy wonderland and I would recommend these caves to anyone, young or old. From there we made our way along to Gythio, which is quite a big place, also with a harbour. We spent our first night a little way from the town, beside the water but with a fairly busy road next to us. If anyone is lucky enough to visit when it's dry and calm you will see just how beautiful it is, as the water looked more like a lake, clear and very serene. In the morning we walked along a short causeway to an islet named Marathonisi and down to a lighthouse at the end. We were parked up in the town, having a brew up and trying to get on-line, when there was a wave at the window, so I opened the window to see a couple (Hugh and Pauline) who we had passed somewhere near the bottom of the Mani, cycling in the opposite direction some days ago.   

They had waved to us then and Adrian had remarked that they must be Brits. Anyway, I asked them in for tea and it turned out they were staying in Gythio for couple of days, waiting for a ferry to take them island hopping to Crete and later on to Marmaris in Turkey. They had then planned to cycle through Turkey, Georgia, Kazakhstan and the Ukraine, I believe. They had been cycling for the last 2 years, since retirement. A very chatty couple and we have since wondered how they got on, as the weather after that became quite evil, with lots of rain, very rough seas and gale force winds which we think grounded the ferries. Anyway, I noted their email address, so as to be able to keep in contact and possibly 'pick their brains' as they had been to South America - Chile and Argentina - and had said how fabulous it was, particularly Patagonia and we have been saying for some time now that we fancy giving it a try.

Our second night in Gythio we moved nearer to the town, in fact a car park but it didn't cost us a penny and was actually a very good spot as we were right on the beach. We watched a skin diver snorkelling around, fishing with a harpoon gun, for about half an hour and when he came out he had caught a big sea bass and several other smaller fish. He had come down from Athens for an afternoon's enjoyment and I think even surprised himself how quick and easy it had been to bag his 'dinner'! The car park did fill up rather quickly in the morning and we thought we might not be able to get out but we did just about manage it.

On our way out we passed the rusty wreck of an old ship, beached in a bay and we stopped to take photos, then on to Skala where we came across a Lidl and a Carrefour so we shopped (in both) and on to Archagelos bay/harbour where we spent a very rainy, windy, thundery night being buffeted around. In fact the next few days were very rough indeed although not really cold. Next stop was at Neapoli harbour where the angry seas were crashing over the long jetty. We had expected a larger town than it actually was. There were several big boats and a ferry anchored up, just offshore there. We knew the ferry went over to islands Elafonisos and Kythira and maybe Crete too but the ferry did not move all day or night, so we were thinking that maybe the weather was too bad for them to run.

The cyclists we had met in Gythio were booked on a ferry that day for Crete, so we were wondering again just how they got on! Not much sleep again there either with yet more rain, wind and thunder. I was quite concerned of possible flooding, as after last year's floods in Turkey I have become ultra-wary! I had been woken up by the storm at 5 am and after looking out of the window realised that the street lights round us had gone off, so that made me more anxious as I was unable to see just what was happening. Adrian assured me we were OK though. The morning wasn't much better either - I guess it was one of those days!

We planned to see the Petrified Forest (no charge) but as usual you get only one sign and then nothing whatsoever. It wasn't really far but the roads very narrow, twisty and hilly and eventually we came to an unsealed road. We parked up and started walking but it seemed to go on forever. We asked someone the way and he said it was a fair bit further and that the road was the same all the way and we would be able to get there with the RV, so we walked back and drove along but the road did deteriorate, narrow with very prickly hedges, and when we came to a big puddle with thick, soft mud we knew we could not get through and had to reverse back quite a long way to turn around. So that was the end of that side trip and we never got to see the Petrified Forest. In the end, and as it was getting late by then, we went back to Neapoli again but couldn't possibly have thought the weather would be even worse on the second night. It was same again and we were really rocking and rolling but at least the lights stayed on all night!

Now we needed to drive across country from Neapoli on to Monemvasia on the east coast and there is no easy route to follow. It was very hilly but beautiful, although you can't really appreciate it fully when in a large RV, as you are holding your breath at times! We came to a tiny village, not on our map (I can't remember its name) and thought we must have turned off on the wrong road as we didn't think there was any way that we could possibly get through but it was correct and we edged through very, very slowly, with me hanging out of the window making sure we were OK my side. Phew!!

Now we were getting worried about the rest of the route but in fact that was the worst section, on that day anyway. We didn't have to cover much distance but obviously on those sort of roads it takes so much longer. Anyway we arrived in Monemvasia, a huge rock, not unlike the Rock of Gibraltar only smaller, a place we had not been to see before, and found a suitable place to stay overnight, beside the sea and overlooking the causeway and island. We were told you were not allowed to stay on the island, as apparently some people do, although I don't really know why anybody would want to as there are plenty of other choices. Besides there is only one short, dead-end road on the island anyway!

Fortunately the next day turned into a beautiful day and it was even quite humid. We packed up our lunch and walked over the causeway to the island of Monemvasia's old city and all its ruins. You go through some very, very old gates into the very old town, where NO vehicle is allowed. Everything is taken in by pack horse. Once through it's a maze of very tiny alleyways with very touristy shops and restaurants. Luckily there is no charge to look around and it's very interesting and quaint. It is described as a 'little Venice'. We had our lunch in the square, overlooking the water and then continued on up. There were lots of churches although none you could look inside. We saw the 12th century Agia Sofia church on the edge of rock cliffs, then we climbed all the way to the top of the hill with various bits and pieces of old castle etc.

From the top we had fabulous views over miles and miles of sea and mountains together with the harbours and town below. It was a good day but it was quite far enough as we had spent 4 hours walking and looking around. That night on the beach (at 1.30 am) we were woken by a noise getting louder and louder. Wondering what on earth it was, we looked out of the window and were astonished to see a big ferry coming along just past us off the beach and stopping right by us to let the lorries and cars off. It was something we were not expecting but think it had come round from Neapoli, where we had just driven across from. It's probably no wonder given the journey by road!

From Monemvasia it was back to Skala again and then north, inland to Geraki. We knew we would not make it back to the coast again by nightfall, so had planned to stop if possible at the castle and archaeological site in Geraki, but when we got there we found it was closed and there was nowhere level or suitable to stop. So down the hill into the village, where we had to settle for the grounds of a church. This was the first night in Greece that we had spent inland, away from any water of one sort or another, but we did not have any bother at all and it was quiet, even if not ideal.

We set off from Geraki a little earlier than normal as we knew we had another slow very hilly, twisty road up into the mountains that we had not been on before and you never know quite what to expect or whether there might be snow to contend with etc, as we could certainly see plenty of it on the tops. It was good to start with, quite barren and treeless, and we were steadily climbing for some time. Later on it became very pretty, with a variety of trees, a gorge with a trickle of water at the bottom and sea views in the distance. However, once again the village roads are so narrow and we very nearly came unstuck again at Kosmas. The corners of the old houses come right into the road and in this case a sharp bend on a steep hill, with house walls both sides, made us think once again that we were not actually going to make it. It was touch and go but somehow we did get round!

The other villages were not quite so bad but we did hold our breath every time we arrived at another new place. The gorge was lovely but it did seem to go on forever and a day. The good point about that day's driving was that there was hardly anything on the road at all and no lorries to worry about, so it was nice for Adrian, who was able to take his time and not be hassled and pushed along! We stopped for our lunch at Leonidio, back on the coast again and found that our brakes were red hot after the long descent. We then drove along a little way to Plaka beach and harbour, which seemed very warm after being up in the mountains. There wasn't much going on in Plaka, quite dead in fact, and we left the next morning taking a slow drive north after going back to Leonidio first. We had some hill work after that but it was all a very pretty route that day with lots of lovely harbours and bays and mile upon mile of beautiful, calm blue waters and with some attractive villages too. 

We stopped for lunch at a picnic viewing area high above Paralia Tyrou and it was warm enough to sit outside, then continued north, turning off at Paralia Astros which once again looked very attractive. It was more built up than we had expected and reminded us of Oludeniz in Turkey, a ghost town which comes alive in the summer months only, but it did have a lovely harbour, a castle and lighthouse and a new open-air theatre right on the front. We could imagine it would be very, very busy later in the year and definitely not for us then, but with its long sandy beaches (just where we parked up) we could see the attraction for many. We chatted to a German lady there, in a camper also, who had come from Hanover. They were travelling in the opposite direction and off to the places we had just come from.

We left Astros with the weather turning nasty and then stopped for lunch at yet another little harbour at Kiveri. This would have been an ideal place to stay if the weather had been good. Very quiet and peaceful, with fresh water and also a toilet (at least we managed to empty our cassette) but completely deserted apart from one other camper, who was parked up on the parking area beside the beach. He had his satellite dish out on the ground plus other camping gear but he was in danger of being marooned on an 'island' as the wind and rain were making the waves breach the sand spit, flowing back up the estuary and over a sort of 'ford' on the roadway exit out. We had driven over just before our lunch and Adrian had remarked how low it was and that he would not park there and shortly after it became very rough. The people in the camper didn't seem very bothered but by the time we had finished our lunch they did come out to have a look at the situation. I would have thought they then moved off but I don't know as we then left, though they certainly didn't seem in any hurry!

Anyway, we did manage to find LPG, thankfully, at Nea Kios, so topped everything up and then made our way along to Nafplio once again. We had been before and loved it there but unfortunately the weather did not show it in a very good light this time around! There are some nice shops there, although pricey. The fortress on the top of the hill is lit up at night but it looked kind of strange and more like a flying saucer. Also lit is the tiny island castle of Bourtzi. A large, long cargo ship came in while we were there. We had never even seen the docks used before. So we moved further along out of the way, anticipating a lot of noise all night and we were right to do so as it was possibly carrying gas and there were tankers coming in and out all night long (and day), loading up and transporting it away, so plenty of activity and noise. 

Between the rain downpours, we did manage a short walk. From the very small beach area there is a good path which runs right round the side of the cliffs beside the water and back into the town. There was a couple swimming even though it was cold and rainy. We looked at several very old (15th and 16th century) cannons from the castle. We left Nafplio to look for a large beach bay (with two small harbours, one at each end) at Karathona, passing a Lidl's on the way out that we did not know existed, but although the beach would be nice in the hot summer months, it was isolated and muddy, so we just filled up with water and left.

Next stop was Tolo, another little harbour with various islands. The day we arrived it was raining, we had four wet days in a row, and the water level was very high with some flooded areas. The only place we could find to park was on the car park, which was noisy with traffic, especially the annoying motorbikes and also with lots of dogs hanging around. We thought we would make it do for a night as it was then getting late but we had a bad night with the dogs, one of which insisted on chasing and barking at every single motor that drove by, which in turn upset all the other dogs so they joined in too!

We decided we would move just around the corner, on the quayside, in the morning as there was a place where we were fairly tucked away, not in anyone's way really and we knew we probably would not hear the dogs. We wanted to get our canoe in the water there and also for Adrian to do a spot of fishing. So this we did and it was all very, very nice and peaceful. We watched the fishermen with their catch of octopus or squid? which they 'bashed' for ages (to a pulp it would seem), and gutting and preparing their fish. We canoed over to a little island, Romvi, but Adrian didn't manage to catch anything. We had a very quiet night. We thought we would have another night there but just as we were about to eat our dinner, the coastguards turned up and asked us to go back up to the car park at the top. They were very nice about it (whether the fishermen had complained about us being down there we don't know).

So we had to go back up and spend another sleepless night with the b***** dogs! Adrian had to throw something at them in the early hours to disperse them. Needless to say, we left in the morning which was a pity. Oh well, you can't win them all!

Past Drepano (there is a campsite here but we never liked it, before or now) and east, inland and climbing hills. We considered a walk to a monastery in a canyon but it looked like a gravel road and as there was nowhere to park up and walk from, we gave it a miss. After lunch we got to Kranidi and much to our surprise we found not one but two service stations that sold LPG. This area had been in very short supply. We filled up and stocked up at Lidl, then drove along to Portocheli, another lovely bay with a marina and harbour.

We spent a very noisy night on a car park along the front among lots of very posh yachts and also drove down to the end at Kosta, where the ferries go to the island of Spetses but we didn't go across. There was nowhere for us to park and so we came back to Portocheli and managed to find a brilliant place for us to park up overnight, right beside the water. This bay is stunning when it is calm and looks just like a lake. It's very clear and shallow. We pumped the canoe up again and Adrian went out on his own, quite a long way and over to another big wreck lying on the sea bed. I also canoed here and that evening we had a glorious sunset. The sky was a beautiful shade of red and the water as still as glass. We had a much better, really quiet night and I would have liked to stay longer but we decided to leave.

I found all of this area very, very nice indeed - from Tolo all around and up to Epidavros - but then I might not have thought so if we hadn't had the sunshine! So many bays and harbours and islands, one of which (Hydra) does not allow any vehicles whatsoever. There were a lot of growing areas on our route that day, not just olives but agricultural land too. However, a little later on we went through mile after mile of devastation from a bush fire that had destroyed many acres, very recently we believe. Even the telegraph poles and electric cables had been burnt and we saw several properties in its path. They must have been absolutely terrified! We arrived in Galatas, with Poros island just over the water. Yet another picturesque place which looks beautiful as you come in. It was very calm then but blew up stormy later on. We decided on our spot to park up for the night, a large empty gravel area beside the water overlooking Poros, with another smaller island nearby with a castle. The town of Poros, over the water, looked very pretty all lit up in the evening. 

FEBRUARY – Still in Greece

The following day was gorgeous, with wall to wall sunshine, so Adrian took our scooter off the back, we packed up our lunch, left our washing at the launderette to be collected in the evening and made our way down to the front to purchase some tickets for us and the scooter to go on the ferry over to Poros. The ferries run every hour and we didn't have to wait long. They crammed the motors on and set off whilst the cars were still backing on! It only took a few minutes to cross and we were on the island. It's a very small island although the town of Poros is heavily populated and built up. We headed for 'love bay/love island' to eat our lunch, near a very small island, just off shore, with some sort of dwelling. We continued going clockwise round, stopping for photos as we went.

The views on that clear sunny day were spectacular. You could see far, far into the distance, including all of Athens. Later we stopped at the Temple of Poseidon, but very little to see there, although there were lots of wild anemones out and also cyclamen and we hoped Spring was just around the corner! Poros was a very quiet, unspoilt, natural little island which I rather liked but I guess you would get bored very quickly if you lived there - it would make a lovely holiday home destination though.

So it was back round for the ferry across to mainland Galatas again. Another beautiful day followed that so the canoe was once again inflated and this time we paddled across to Poros, keeping well away from any ferries or water taxis. Obviously it tends to be more choppy in the centre and very deep too as Adrian said he saw a very big boat come through one morning, but we were fine and we went all along the promenade front (of Poros) but didn't get out at all and then we made our way back over to Galatas once more, just as it became very, very calm with hardly a ripple in sight. Then Adrian got out and I had a nice paddle around on my own before we had to get it out to dry off, before deflating and packing away. It was all most enjoyable - great fun.

We left after lunch, making our way to another 'island' across a causeway, first topping up with water at a tap we found, before arriving in Methana. This was a strange place and yet at the same time very nice. As you come down the hill into the harbour you are first met by the smell of sulphur (like rotten eggs. Is this why it's named Methana?) and you come past a large pool of milky white water, which we thought (as we had seen a sign for thermal springs) was for swimming in, as it appeared, although closed, to have changing rooms etc around the edge, but the water wasn't warm and on closer inspection we saw a board saying it was something to do with a de-odorisation plant! The whole place looked a bit derelict though, so we didn't really know quite what it was all about!  

Apart from that there was a lovely quiet harbour/marina/docks and where we parked we had the sea and beach on one side of us, which was quite rough, and the calm, tranquil harbour (with small island) on the other side. So we had the best of both worlds and plenty to watch. The water in the harbour, which seemed to come from over the road at the 'pool', was also a milky white colour which gave it a rather strange appearance - sometimes blue, sometimes green.

We should have taken our scooter off at Methana and ridden round but we didn't, we drove round and it was very slow going with the usual hills, hairpin bends (6 of which we were unable to get round in one go), narrow roads and very narrow villages. We got to Vathy but had to walk down to the harbour as it was too narrow. Lots of people having their Sunday lunch out at the Tavernas round the square. We had our lunch just round the corner at the beach but boy was it rough and angry, with the wind very strong. We continued round to find where to start the walk up to a 'volcano', which only actually took us about 20 minutes of walking. There was no information about it but this volcano must have erupted a very long time ago.

At the top there is a sort of triangular cavern where presumably it had all started from! It was different anyway and we had spectacular views from up there too, over the islands of Agistri and Egina and so on round the top, down to Ag Georgios harbour which we did not fancy, so we then came back to the same place at Methana for another night. In the evening we walked round a very pleasant cliff top walk and passed a lit up church, although it was locked, to the docks where there was a large sailing yacht, used for summer cruises we presumed. In the morning I did manage to use the canoe, on my own, round the harbour and the little island too, before we left. Adrian had tried first, on the beach side, to launch it but it was too rough and a wave came over and soaked him and yet it was dead calm in the harbour, if a little strange canoeing on milky water! Anyway, the canoe was all dried, deflated and packed away by lunchtime and after lunch we set off again.

This time the place we intended to stop at was Archaia Epidavros, where we had been before and loved. It's through an awkward narrow village to get to the port and harbour and when we did we found there was a lot of ground works in progress, laying a new road/path, and some of the road was closed off. The place we stayed on 3 years ago we thought would be too noisy and we might be in the way as they worked along the road, so reluctantly we left and moved on to Nea Epidavros, which also had a little harbour and marina (and river) but it was a strange place as there was nothing there, the village being further inland. We had a walk along the beach front in the evening and I heard my first scops owl of the year.     

We had a very, very quiet night there anyway and in the morning decided to go back to Archaia Epidavros, as I had been so looking forward to canoeing there and we thought we may be able to park up somewhere else nearby. So back we went and squeezed in between a lorry and boat, hoping we would not be in anybody's way or be asked to move. We walked into the village, along to where they were laying the path and also the other end to a very secluded little beach bay. The weather had not been at all promising that morning and was threatening to rain but by the afternoon it had turned into another lovely day with calm water, so we inflated our canoe and both canoed along to the secluded bay again, where an amorous couple must have thought they had it all to themselves, so we left them to it and went even further round the headland, looking for any little caves to explore in the process.

We then paddled all the way back again and I went out on my own, along in the other direction and among all the boats moored up, but I had to be so careful as there were so many fishermen fishing off the banks and their floats go out a very long way. I was so pleased we had been able to do what I had intended to do there and we had a thoroughly lovely day again. The evening was glorious and we sat out by the water watching the fishermen going out in their boats, although you do have to put up with youngsters going round and round on their very noisy motorbikes until it did eventually die down to a very peaceful night. Although having said that, we were not amused when at 5.30 am the dustmen decided to come and empty the bins almost beside us and of course the workmen turned up quite early for the work on the road too!  

However, we did find it difficult to tear ourselves away from there, particularly when the weather was nice, and so we decided to take the scooter off and stay another night. In the morning we packed up a lunch and rode inland to the town of Asklipieio and on to the archaeological ruins of Epidavros. They did let Adrian go in at half price, as he will be an OAP in June! That's a first, but I still had to pay full price. I wasn't particularly impressed with the place anyway, most of it just that (ruins) and we don't like it when they do restoration work, but the theatre is quite something to see with the acoustics, of course, being extremely good. It's very large but it didn't look very comfortable without any back rests! We didn't even think the setting and views were that good, we had certainly seen better. However, it came in very useful for us to eat our lunch seated in the 'theatre'! We rode back via the main road and with a little detour, as I had seen a sign for a 'sunken city' at a beach near us, so we went to investigate but it would appear that it is offshore somewhere – well, that's where the arrow pointed, so whether it is for divers to explore we don't really know, although I was hoping to canoe over it. We left the following morning.

We stopped for lunch at Katakali bay where I spotted 5 cute little puppies that couldn't have been very old at all, as they were still suckling from the mother, but whether they were likely to survive or not is anybody's guess. It would have been fine to stay there but it was quite isolated so we continued looking. We ended up at Isthmia beside the water, where we have parked a number of times, by the Corinth canal. It was quite a cold night and first thing in the morning, so I was quite surprised to see someone in the water. He must have swum several miles, up and down along the bay for quite a long time. Maybe he was training for something, I don't know but he was certainly very fit and strong and there was us keeping warm by the fire! 

Anyway, we had to drive on toll road motorways round Athens that day but the cost wasn't too bad, so on to the Markopoulo airport (Athens) and then we turned off to go down the east coast to Porto Rafti but all this area was very built up and busy and we couldn't find anywhere to park ourselves up for the night. We continued south until we came to Lavrio port and private marina where there was a large area good for parking, so we stayed there the night and walked into the town in the evening. It was a posh town for the wealthy. There was a huge, rich man's yacht (an Arab's?) moored up there which Adrian said would have been very fast, the sort that would sail around the world. It was very sleek. We did not have a good night however, as there was some sort of a party going on all night in a marquee nearby. The music was very loud. Perhaps it was the yachtie fraternity!

Adrian managed to buy a map of Athens and around, although it wasn't much good and when he took it out of the polythene found it was already ripped on the creases! Paper maps are such rubbish, why don't they make them of a different material? It's not as if they are even cheap! However, the next day was a better day. We had thought that maybe all of the Athens peninsula would be built up, busy and stressful (going by our first day) and therefore not really worth continuing but we found it to be a lovely area, well worth a visit and an enjoyable drive.

We drove down to Sounio (at the bottom) but didn't pay to go in to see the archaeological site ruins (Temple of Poseidon). Lots of bays, beaches and islands all around the rugged coastline there. We stopped at Legrema's little harbour for lunch and managed to fill up our barrels with water, then on to Palea Fokea where there were masses of windsurfers and some hang gliders too all around a large bay. Adrian bought some grease here so that he could grease up all the joints on our motorhome, which were beginning to squeak and rattle again, and we drove just round the corner where we found a fabulous spot again with a small island over a causeway with a rough sea and beach one side and a picture postcard harbour on the other. There was a cute little stone church on the island (locked!) but nothing else. 

No roads other, than the very short one to the church, and the causeway itself consisted of both loose and compacted sand. There was masses of space to park before the causeway but almost everyone had to take their car over anyway (for some reason), which was fine if you owned a 4x4 but many didn't and ended up digging their way out! It was an ideal and very quiet place to stay for the weekend, which is what we did. We had a few walks along the beach and round and over the island and watched a diver too and Adrian managed to grease up nearly all of his joints (motorhome that is, although it's a pity you can't do the same for your own!), but in general we do like to 'people watch' and there were plenty of people about to watch that weekend. They do make you laugh at the things they do, quite often!

We continued going north round the Athenian peninsula and we were still pleasantly surprised to find it was not so built up as we had feared, although we would not have wanted to go any closer (to Athens) than we in fact did. Lots more nice bays etc but we didn't have a good day as regards finding what we wanted to look at. As I said before, the map wasn't very helpful and we found we had gone further than we thought and missed the 'warm freshwater lake' I had wanted to go to.

Then at Vari we could not find the caves that are described in our book, ones that you go round yourselves free of charge. We asked a lady but she could not understand what a cave was, even after seeing the symbol. Then we asked a young man who could speak good English (he even read our book) and he lived there but he had never heard of them! In the garage they gave us directions but we think they must have been to other caves in the area. Then we nearly got stuck in Vari and couldn't find our way out with the one-way roads, so we gave up. We were lucky though that we found LPG, much more readily available round the Athens area, so filled up and also shopped at Carrefour, then made our way over to Markopoulo (airport) and back to the east coast again. We settled north of Porto Rafti, down a very quiet dead-end road overlooking Perati Island. Several little islands there, lots of craggy rocks and nice swimming bays too. The coastline there is supposed to be pockmarked with caves! 

In the morning, the terrific winds had dropped, the sun came out and the water was calm, so we drove just down to the end of the road, pumped the canoe up and launched into the little bay there, being closely watched by a lone, male sun-worshipper. We stayed round the edge, looking for any caves, although we didn't really find anything much of interest, just a couple of bays and we almost made it round to where we had stayed overnight. Suddenly the wind got up, making the water very choppy and rough. It wasn't too bad in the bays but trying to get round any headland was getting very difficult. We were slapping up and down on the waves, with water sometimes coming over, so we decided to beach in one of the coves.

There were steep cliffs there but we found a little path and Adrian went off to see if we could get the canoe out and walk back via the road. We had thought it might calm down as quickly as it had appeared but it only got worse. Adrian came back and said if we could get it up the hill (he had wet feet and flip flops and I had swim shoes on) we would be OK. The trouble was we were on private property and when we came to some big gates onto the road they were locked. Dogs started barking and a man appeared who was obviously not best pleased and wanted to know where we had come from. We said it was too rough and could we get out of the gate but he wasn't going to open it, saying we could not go through and had to go somewhere else. So we asked him to show us where we had to go and started walking away when the gate opened! So we didn't understand why he was being so difficult. Perhaps he just felt like being awkward. So we walked back to the motorhome and by this time it was lunchtime. The water didn't improve so after lunch we left, which was a pity as it looked very nice all the way along that road!  

We drove north, bypassing Rafina (busy port), turning off at Marathonas, down to a ferry port at Ag Marina. The man in the kiosk there said it would be OK to stay the night and even to fill up our water tank too, which we indeed did. The ferries from there go over to Chalkida on the large island of Euboea, which is connected to the mainland by a suspension bridge, and we did think about going over and coming back either via the bridge or another ferry from the other end of the island, but as it was 40 Euro each way for us we couldn't really justify the cost. Anyway, as it happens we again had terrific winds overnight and we moved the motorhome behind a wall at 6 am as we were unable to sleep! It was a pity because otherwise it was a quiet place with no ferries operating. So whether they had been cancelled we don't know but there was nobody there in the morning. One ferry had been there all the time we had and it was eerily crunching and grinding on its moorings. 

Leaving the port we had a lot of twisty hill work to negotiate and as always narrow villages, apart from which we had quite a violent thunderstorm with lashings of rain. In fact one very loud clap was just as we were trying to get through a tight gap and Adrian mistook it for having hit something! It would have been very nice with the views but not on that day. We travelled west then north, back to the coast again. We found a little harbour near Dilesi (Pigadaki) which was quiet and suitable, although swampy and smelly! It stopped raining, so we were able to have a walk. The water in the harbour became calm again and we watched an egret fishing for some time. He didn't seem too worried about us being there.     

It rained all night, which woke us as water poured off the roof of the building we were parked next to and we had a pretty lousy day too as it rained and rained all day and turned very, very cold. I guess it didn't help that we were travelling further and further north again but think the rain was fairly general. There was just a brief respite from the rain first thing and the water in the harbour (and beyond) was so still, just like a millpond, until everything changed again. We also not only had the egret back but we had a visit from a great egret as well (same but much bigger). Anyway we left, passing through Dilesi, Paralia Avlidos and Vathy port, which was where we had our lunch beside the suspension bridge over to Chalkida. No good views that day, the rain put paid to that, which was a shame but I suppose you can't be lucky all the time.

We decided that if the bridge was free we would drive over to the town, go round and then out over the old bridge. It WAS free, so we did just that but then almost wished we hadn't as it's a big, busy city, split in two halves and we very nearly got ourselves lost with our 'great' map. Then we hit a traffic jam but think it was probably due to the fact that the old bridge opens. Anyway, we got off the island and drove round the coast via Drosia, Kronia, Loukisia, Mouriki and lakes Paralimni and Likeri, then south to Thiva. The lakes were not particularly interesting but maybe that had something to do with the lousy weather and we could not find anywhere to park up. We ended up round the back of a Service Station just outside Thiva, where we didn't venture out again due to the cold and rain. So much for romantic St Valentine's Day (a special anniversary for us)!

Despite staying on a Service Station forecourt it was a good night. No lorry noise - just the pounding of the rain to contend with! A very cold morning. We stopped at Aliartos for some bread and a bank, then on past Livadeia but for some reason our SatNav didn't have the continuation of the road we were on and sent us off west which was miles and miles out of our way and we were just following whatever it said and so we had a strange sort of a day, as we only had to go about 70 miles but think it was more like 170 in the end!

We found ourselves way up in the snowy mountains into the town of Arachova, which was a very busy, touristy, ski and snowboard resort. We had to go round to Delphi, which we had visited before, to get back to our destination of the thermals at Thermopyles once again, although it was nearly tea time when we got there. Anyway, at least nothing had changed since we left before Christmas apart from more water, which had been flooding some of the areas. Nobody there, except for one other camper on the other side of the road. At least it seemed a bit warmer. After our tea I lit a fire and then we both went bathing in the thermal waters again. It was as lovely and warm as ever. The next morning Adrian couldn't wait to jump in the thermals and he was in the water before I was even up. We collected wood for our evening's fire and went down to the local thermal spot for another dip and so I could also use the warm waterfall. In the evening we lit a fire and had yet another dip, this time in 'our own pool', where Adrian had fixed a rope across to hold on to as the current is quite strong!

It rained all night and neither of us slept very well, although it was quiet, because we were a little concerned that we might be flooded out with water coming off the mountains, and the thermal 'river' had already overflowed and someone had tried to contain the water but not very successfully. We were OK but it rained and rained all day long too and it was just so cold, so there was not a lot that we could do and we spent most of the morning in the thermal trying to get warm! We had our fire on (in the motorhome) all day long, and we were still cold! We had a very lazy day. I did manage, in the evening, to light another fire and we also both had another 'dip'. It's the best time of year for the thermals as you wouldn't really want to use them when the weather is hot and anyway the mozzies are a big problem there a bit later in the year!

Before we left the thermals, we had one more early morning dip to warm us up, as it was very cold but not quite as miserable as it had been and we did see glimpses of sun now and again! However, by the evening we were back to dreary drizzle once more! We filled up with water, then we were off again. We found the Lidl, in the town of Lamia, where we shopped and also purchased some LPG, then after our lunch we continued to drive north, on a toll motorway this time, round Larissa and eventually, unfortunately we had to stop at a service station again and this time it was extremely noisy with the traffic and there were plenty of dogs around too and even a train track quite close by! 

It rained all that night and ALL of the next day too, so there was plenty of water lying around and the rivers were very muddy and flooded. Adrian had strained a muscle in his side, or so we thought, and was in quite a lot of pain. Thankfully, he was still managing to drive but standing or walking were out of the question and he didn't even know how he had done it. We drove through the 'Tembi Valley Gorge' which didn't look so good in the awful rainy weather conditions and then we were on more tolled motorway, north and around Thessaloniki, which always makes us angry as sometimes you hardly go any distance at all before you come to another toll and that day we paid for one section and we were not even on the motorway, as they had road works all along! You can't argue though, the staff (in the kiosks) are only doing their jobs I suppose!

We missed our turn-off for the ring road round Thessaloniki and found ourselves in the city, but Adrian coped very well going along the front and through, which was quite interesting as we had never been there before. We then travelled south onto the Chalkidiki peninsula, with plenty of LPG around, and eventually down to Nea Moudania, where we settled on the beach for the night. Much quieter than the previous night anyway. It stopped raining after tea for a while, so I was able to go for a much needed walk along the promenade. Adrian did not accompany me as he was in too much pain and in fact had a very disrupted night with the pain too, as he just could not get comfortable, so the following day we had to find a chemist who gave us some strong pain killers, or at least that's what she said they were, but without a doctor's prescription you just can't get anything very strong at all!

Anyway, it was a very quiet night although cold but it was so lovely to see the sun again in the morning, after 3 days of rain. It made all the difference and warmed us up a treat, so at least we were able to enjoy the scenery around Chalkidiki. When we looked out we could see a snow-capped Mt Olympus over on the mainland. We did not drive round Kassandra, the first peninsula you come to, opting for the middle one of the three, Sithonia. From Moudania we travelled east and then south round the coast, where we liked the countryside - green fields, blossoming trees and pine trees, mountains, blue sparkling seas, soft golden sands, cute harbours and coves and not too much traffic - but the downside was too many campsites and holiday homes all along, often with fenced off beaches, making it very difficult for us to find a spot to camp!

There was a nice little harbour at Toroni and the remains of a settlement (which was closed up) and I wished we had stayed there, as at Porto Koufo we couldn't find anywhere and before we knew it we were round on the east coast, where Kalamitsi proved to be no good either. However, we ended up at Skala Sikias, which was a good place and worth the wait. Quiet, golden sands and best of all we had a wonderful view of a very snowy 3,000 m Mount Athos over the water on the peninsula of monasteries, which apparently women are not allowed to set foot on! It appeared to rise out of the water, reminding me of Mitre Peak in New Zealand. We watched as the sun set and the mountain turned a pretty soft pink colour. It was probably our best and only chance of seeing Mt Athos.

Indeed, as it happens, it did turn out to be our best and only chance of seeing Mt Athos, as it rained and rained constantly all of the next day and was cold too. When we looked out over the water in the morning there was nothing at all to be seen! I was disappointed that we were back to rain again. We really only wanted one more day to see the scenery at the places we had never seen before but it was not meant to be. I'm grateful though that overall we had good, dry, sunny weather (in Greece) and that we were able to see and experience as much as we did. We had a quiet night but poor Adrian was still suffering, the tablets not having made the slightest bit of difference!        

Later in the day he went to another chemist's who gave him something else, but I don't think they made any difference either. I guessed, without seeing a doctor, they wouldn't give him anything stronger than paracetamol! All of our route looked very nice that day but I would very much like to go back again and see it all in the sunshine. It was quite hilly on the east coast of Sithonia and again lots of bays, little harbours and golden sands, ideal for snorkelling and canoeing - if only! In particular Orm Papagias and the islands around.

From there we drove round the Oros Gulf to Lerissos and then down to Ouranoupoli (touristy), which is the farthest point you can go near Mt Athos, other than on a dirt track or by boat - and that's ONLY permissible to MEN! This peninsula is devoted almost entirely to Orthodox Monks and their Monasteries. The ferries go from Ouranoupoli over to their port of Dafni. We would have had more of a look round if it hadn't been for the rain and Adrian's discomfort. We stopped for a cup of tea at another little ferry port that takes you over to the Island of Amouliani. We then drove north up to Olymbiada, a small fishing port, where we spent a quiet night and it continued to rain and rain and rain! After that we stopped and shopped at Lidl in Stavros, stocking up with the items we are unable to purchase in Bulgaria.

We got on the motorway round Kavala but found that yet another toll post had sprung up since we were here before Christmas, so therefore more expense! Later on we left the motorway to try to get to Makri but by then we had mist and low clouds and a narrow, twisty road took us up into the hills and as usual our map was of no help and the signs were no good at all, none had said Makri. It seemed to go on and on forever and not knowing where we were we decided to carry on to Alexandroupoli. We stopped at a junction and found we WERE in Makri and we hadn't the foggiest idea how we had arrived there! However, after a tight, narrow village it was down the hill and we came to a nice, quiet harbour/fishing port with plenty of space for us to fit in for the night. We hoped our last night in Greece would be quiet and uneventful! If only it would stop raining!   

Although Makri appeared to be a dead, lifeless place in the rain, the following morning was dry, sunny and warm and it transformed into a hive of activity, with boats going in and out all the time. After filling up with water on the harbour and making a phone call, we drove just up to the village, parked up and went on a little walk on the hillside, overlooking the harbour, to an archaeological site (although actually nothing to see as it was all covered) and a cave called Cyclops! A notice said you had to get permission to enter and I had thought that maybe they went potholing from it, but after looking with a torch, once we had entered, found no passageways that actually went anywhere! It was interesting and a nice little walk anyway. (We DID find out later that there WAS another chamber, an 'upstairs', but you would need to be very small and slither along a very narrow passage on your stomach to access it).

Bulgaria

So Makri turned out to be another nice, quiet harbour, another good stopping place but it was the end of our trip to Greece and we left to drive the Egnatia Odos motorway once again, past Alexandroupoli (going east) and north up to the border with Bulgaria.

We noticed lots of flooding en route but we were soon back in Harmanli again and managed to drive straight down the lane to our property, which we found exactly the same as we had left it before Christmas! We could see they had had plenty of rain (and thankfully our well was full), although that day the weather was dry and not too cold. We had just had the best 3 months away that I can remember in a long time, well apart from the last week or so with Adrian's discomfort! However, we were about to experience what was probably the worse 2 months we could remember.

MARCH and APRIL - Back in Bulgaria

So there we were once again, hoping we would be ready to move into our little place in due course! Of course there were always things to sort out after being away for nearly 3 months. At least we no longer had to worry about being moved on or any trouble or noise etc! In fact the first night was so quiet that it was easy to imagine we were the only 2 people on the planet! Adrian managed to get our car going again, although after he had been into town he realised that the brakes had seized on, so he had to take them apart and take the scooter back into town for new brake pads etc. On the first day, also, Adrian had great difficulty getting our water pump to work properly once again but the next day he figured out what the problem was and fixed it. He rigged up an outside light again for us, put a cover on the roof of the motorhome to quieten the noise of drips from the electric cables above us (when it rains) and went to see Kamen about buying another car or getting an MOT and registering our old car in Bulgaria.

The weather was dry and mild although there was talk of more snow to come! We bought all of our laminated flooring for downstairs and some curtain rails too. Adrian made a start on laying the floor. Then we had rain, after which it turned very cold again. How quickly the temperature/weather can change there! Anyway, the flooring, along with made-up edging, was completed and I made curtains for downstairs, which was actually a big job as we had left our sewing machine at home, so they were all made up by hand, plus voiles for the kitchen too. Adrian laid a stair carpet and made a hand rail. He ran the waste pipes and gas pipe and fixed various leaks that we had acquired.

At that stage, just as you think you are about done and ready to move in, you find lots of things need changing, or attention of some kind, and you do wonder if it will ever come to an end. I suppose we should be used to it by now! Lights were fixed up (outside at the front) and we bought rugs and some second-hand furniture - table and chairs and a bed settee which were quite reasonable, in condition and price too. Adrian made up fly screens for 5 of our windows, made more difficult with our UK windows which open outwards, rather than the traditional Bulgarian ones, which open inwards. Bulgarians seem to be the complete opposite of us, as their doors all open outwards, whereas ours (UK) open inwards. So what with the nodding of the head to mean 'no' and the shaking meaning 'yes' it all gets a bit confusing at times!

The birds had started to return, we heard the cuckoo and lots of nightingales as usual. In fact on one day we saw and watched a nightingale (not that far away, even though they are very shy) singing away to its heart's content. They are quite attractive if you are lucky enough to get a good view. The storks flew over and we saw the beautiful hawfinches again too. The almond blossom came and went and so too the cherry trees blossomed along with the apple, pear and peach tree. One good thing was that we hadn't seen any snakes, at that point anyway!

I had to have a new ceramic tooth crown made and fitted (plus the prep work), which seemed to be very good value for money. At 120 Leva (roughly 60 Euros), it sounded good to me! Adrian made a trip to Haskovo, with Matt to help with translation etc, to get our old car MOT'd and registered for Bulgaria. It did all cost a fair bit and was quite involved, which wasn't really worth it with our 'banger' that may not last much longer, but as there do not seem to be any cheap used cars here and we would have had to go through all the same process and cost anyway, we thought we would try and hang on to it a bit longer! The checks for the MOT were a farce, laughable and basically non-existent (a look under the bonnet) but at least we were finally legal!   

This was just as well, as a few days later, on another trip to Haskovo, we were stopped by the Police, although they did not want to see any documents and in fact one of them recognised us. We had met Atanis at Matt's birthday party (3 years ago). Anyway he said to us that if ever we were in any trouble or needed any help at all, that he was the person to go and see. That's nice to know, but let's just hope we never have a need to!

Adrian's problem that he thought was a pulled muscle was still troubling him but it hadn't seemed too bad after we had got back to Bulgaria, so we decided we were ready at last to move up to our little place. We had been taking things up from the motorhome for a day or two and settled for the16th March. Unfortunately we awoke to 4 inches of snow on that day. How typical! It was all a bit 'déjà vu', as we had had exactly the same last year on the exact same day! Anyway, we still moved in and the snow thawed quite quickly and was nearly all gone by the evening. We lit the fire and nearly cooked!

It all felt very strange at first, finding homes for things and getting to grips with how everything worked, apart from being in a house after 6 months in our motorhome of course. Our first night was problem-free and very quiet. We slept well and were very comfortable. Then we started having a few teething problems, one or two leaks etc, and Adrian was becoming increasingly concerned about his painful side. Two days after moving in, we had lit our fire again but this time it had decided to smoke and smoke. Adrian went off to buy a different cowl but it made no difference. Our fire definitely did not like the strong easterly wind. By this time it was billowing out of the front of the 'Kamena', so it was all windows and doors open. We even tried to put the fire out but that proved just as difficult! I was not amused. After spending months and months getting our place together, all new, clean and freshly decorated, it just wasn't funny. So not a good start. I was wishing I was back in the motorhome again.

Adrian looked on the internet and apparently you need to have the flue higher than the ridge tiles on the roof and so he went off again to get some longer lengths but it was difficult for him as our pitch is such that it would have to be very high and in the cold, strong winds - and with how he felt - it was not an easy task. By this time the fire had gone out but we were in no mood to try again! Luckily, the next couple of days were much warmer, so we didn't have to worry about the fire but when we did try with just a piece of paper it seemed no different and Adrian decided we would just have to move the 'Kamena' to an outside wall! More bad weather was forecast and we wouldn't keep warm with just an electric fire.

Adrian had had one day pain-free and assumed it had all gone away but the next day it was back with a vengeance. Somehow, together we managed to move the 'Kamena' (which was very, very heavy) and re-rig all the pipe work etc. Whether this was actually going to stop it smoking or not was anybody's guess! I wasn't really convinced and we would not know unless the wind was from the east again anyway. We rang Nadejda (our lawyer and English-speaking interpreter) about seeing a doctor and she told us to go and see her the following day.

So the next day we met up and she took us straight along to her doctor's. I have to say that we couldn't complain at the speed at which they got things sorted or the equipment this doctor had in his surgery. Adrian was given an ECG, had blood pressure checked and was linked to the ultrasound scanner and told straight away he had kidney stones. We were sent (the same day) for blood and urine tests (at hospital) and told to go back at 4 pm for the results, which we did and they then advised him to go straight into hospital! We had been to the hospital once before for a dental check and vowed then never to go in there as an in-patient, as it would be your worse nightmare, and this did indeed turn out to be so and a real eye-opener!

I suppose you could say that it's to be expected in a poor country but there is simply no excuse for what Adrian had to endure in his painful, traumatic state. A little bit of sympathetic TLC or bedside manner would have gone a long way. We might not have understood each other's spoken words (due to the language problem) but you certainly got the message each time someone came in and scowled at you in annoyance for disturbing them and daring to ask for help. As for the condition of the hospital, surely it wouldn't be too much to expect (at the very least) to have a clean, hygienic room!

Adrian's Hospital Stay – or 12 reasons not to stay in Harmanli Hospital

1) No drinking water! (Even though he had been told he had not been drinking enough!) Your carer or visitors (if you have any) must leave the hospital to purchase bottled water. (No hot water in room either.)

2) Very few drugs. They 'ran out' of painkillers and someone was expected, once again, firstly to obtain a Doctor's prescription, then leave the premises in order to go to a Chemist for the drugs, which you then have to pay for.

3) No food worth mentioning. At 11 am he was given 2 bits of dry bread. Some 'soup' on one occasion (lunch?) and a dry 'bun' in the evening, plus 2 drinks of something that MAY have resembled 'tea'! This was poured into any cup found beside the bed - never a new, clean cup! He had one paper cup, which I had purchased from a coffee machine downstairs and which had also been used by him to clean his teeth, but this made no difference to them!   

4) The heater did not work efficiently and the remote control was always taken away (probably the controls to all other heaters). When I was with Adrian I was freezing cold and wore my coat. I then had to go for a walk to get warmed up! No sun in his room until late in evening.

5) No curtains or blinds on the 2 big windows. Glass door with bright light shining through all night.

6) Ripped sheets on the very uncomfortable bed (with rusty springs). One blanket. One ripped chair.

7) No toilet paper, hot water or soap, paper hand towels or blow-air dryer of any description.

8) No doctors or medication on a Sunday. (He was supposed to be on a drip but once it became empty, it was not replaced).

9) The buzzers for help were all situated (fixed) on the walls, away from the bed and therefore the patient needed to get out of bed (if they were able!) in order to press one!

10) No clocks, mirrors or light by bed (again having to get out to switch it off at night), let alone radio, TV or telephone!

11) Left on own for hours on end. You could have died and they would have been none the wiser! There was nobody to be found whenever I went to look for anyone. Adrian was in severe pain and the injections did nothing. I think they were placebos!

12) The filthy, unhygienic state of the rooms (especially the floors) and the disgusting toilets. The waste pipe was hanging off the wall and the stench was putrid. They had all windows wide open (wonder why)! The toilet door (which was glass & transparent) did not close (let alone lock), you had to hang onto a dirty, tatty piece of string. The toilet was for both men and women. I did find some warm water in the toilet and whilst attempting to rinse out a cup, a man came in and proceeded to use the toilet with me standing right beside the see through door! Needless to say, I made a hasty exit!

And finally - on the day you leave, you are handed some sheets, and expected to strip and remake the bed for the next unlucky patient!

It had been down to me to look after and care for Adrian as best I could. It was a good job I didn't have far to go. I had to take everything down for him, from toilet rolls and soap, water and drugs, all food, pillows and blankets, to kettle and fan heater (although these were difficult to use as the sockets were all half way up the walls)! I did look at a so called 'upgraded' room (which we were told was 35 Leva per night) but with very little difference other than your own shower and toilet, so we decided to stay put. It was the room next door, with the same 'nurses' and the same 'treatment'!

On the day they said he could go home, I had a phone call very early in the morning from Adrian to say that he had lost his health card and to go down as soon as possible. He tried to get another one sent (faxed through), only to be told that the hospital did not have a fax machine! When I got there he was not happy. Now bear in mind that he was still in a lot of pain and wanted to get home as soon as possible and also what he had gone through at the hospital during his 3 night stay (unable to sleep etc). He told me that he had had 6 people hassling him that morning and they were not going to let him go unless he found his card. This card had been passed from person to person on the day we came in but was nowhere to be seen at that time.

Apparently they (at the Hospital) don't get paid unless you produce your card. Adrian said they were even rifling through his jacket pockets! What a nerve. It leaves you speechless. So Adrian asked how much it would be to pay for his stay and they said 20 Leva per night, so he said he would willingly pay the money so he could get out of there, but he had forgotten that he had given me all his money for safe keeping and because he didn't think it likely he would be needing any in there! They didn't seem to believe him and obviously he really could have done without all the stress. Anyway, we paid up and left. He was not given any painkillers or prescription for any to take home and in fact we were halfway home by the time we realised that he still had an intravenous line in his arm!! A few days later Nadejda rang to say our health card had turned up and to go to her office to collect it. What do you reckon were our chances of reclaiming our cash back?

Anyway, while he was in there I was worrying about him and I half expected to see a taxi turn up with him and I couldn't have blamed him really. I was also nervous about driving on the right-hand side, as I hadn't really done much at all and worried that our car would break down as it's old and unreliable now. Also being quite isolated on my own up on the hill on a very cold, windy weekend, I was concerned about anything going wrong such as leaks and the fire smoking again, which would mean I wouldn't be able to keep warm, but I managed OK. Nobody had spoken any English in hospital and we didn't really know what they had done but 2 days after he came out Adrian was in so much pain we weren't sure what to do and thought it had not worked and he would have to go further afield for different treatment. We went back to see the doctor, who gave him another scan and said the stones had gone and indeed that pain (which came in waves) did gradually get better, so at some point he must have passed the stones but he was still complaining of pain and also a swelling in the same area. The doctor wasn't interested. I think he had made his mind up that it was just the after-effects of the stones.

Back at home, Adrian kept saying that he couldn't bear anything to touch his skin at all in that area and it suddenly dawned on me that he probably now had Shingles. So I looked it up and you can get a swelling with it and everything else pointed to that, except that he did not have any blisters/rash but I assumed they were coming. He didn't get any but we spoke to someone we know who had shingles (in UK) without any rash. This did NOT make his condition any less painful however. I insisted Adrian went straight back to the doctor as I knew (I had Shingles myself once) that the sooner you get the course of tablets the better (so as to minimise the length and severity of it, especially anyone over 60).

We tried to tell the doctor we thought it was shingles (although they only know it as Herpes Zoster) but he insisted Adrian did NOT have it. He wouldn't even send him for a blood test or give him any painkillers! We were absolutely disgusted. I daresay Adrian did look comical as he had made up a metal frame to strap round him to keep his clothes off a large area from belly button round to his back and had to wear loose fitting shorts as he couldn't get his trousers done up, but otherwise there would have been no way he could have got there. The doctor even insisted Adrian take the 'frame' off so he could examine him again but anyone who has ever had Shingles will know that this is definitely a NO, NO. You certainly do not want anyone touching, poking, prodding and squeezing you, which is exactly what he did. I would have walked out. It made me feel quite sick!    

I'm convinced the doctor thought we were loopy and it was all in the mind but he should have known that you don't always get a rash and that Shingles often follows an illness or stress. Later that day our interpreter rang to say the doctor was worried about Adrian's health and wanted him to go back into hospital for a WEEK! God knows what that was all about. I think he would have been dumped in a mental ward and left there! So poor Adrian had gone from one of the most painful things (kidney stones) to another extremely painful complaint. He spent the next 4 weeks wearing his 'cage', but I don't know what he would have done without it, so a good invention! I just hoped he wasn't going to have too many repercussions from not being given any drugs!

On top of all that (as if that wasn't enough), while Adrian was in hospital I had been having a sore throat and this eventually turned into a very nasty flu type virus. Adrian went down with it just after I did. After 3 or 4 weeks, I had never known anything to hang on for so long. We both had nasty hacking coughs and we couldn't sleep for coughing all night some nights. We certainly wouldn't want too many of them again and I only had one thing wrong, which was enough for me, so you can imagine what it must have been like for Adrian having one thing after another overlapping like that and of course very frustrating when there was still so much to do. It's definitely not in his nature to laze around and do basically nothing. His first EVER taste of staying in a hospital couldn't have been more traumatic for him! Well that was just how it was between February and April! We were thinking of going home early but as Adrian then seemed to turn a corner, we decided to carry on for a few more weeks and try and get a bit more work done!

So by mid-April, Adrian was getting better by the day and was able to wear the 'cage' less and less and to gradually get back to normal and start doing some work again. We had the arrival of all of the birds we did last year, which was lovely. We saw two pairs of woodchat shrikes flying round and round and having a great time chasing each other and we were treated again to the appearance of the golden orioles. I wasn't sure if we would see them again this year, so I was pleased. Four of them sat in our tree outside the bedroom window for ages, making lots of noise at 5 am in the morning. We also had the arrival of several of the very distinctive hoopoes, whose calls seem to carry for miles. I had (once again) to get used to the 'dawn chorus' of the nightingales, all through the night, along with the scops owl and sometimes the cuckoo. When it is hot and you need to sleep with a window open, I still find it all so surreal, hearing all the birds. Adrian also spotted a bird we had not seen here before and with the help of our book, identified it as a black Kkte. So this was yet another bird to add to the growing list of new sightings.  

The weather turned out to be a bit disappointing at that time but it did suddenly become settled and hot at the end of April, just as we were thinking of packing up to leave! Anyway Adrian made good progress once he got into the swing of things again. I stained our old 'chalet', which Adrian had altered somewhat (moved door and put in windows) and which is now our shed. I also painted the base section (cellar area) underneath our place, after Adrian had rendered over the cracks and any parts that were disintegrating, and tidied it up generally. He had to make another door to the pump room. He also bought 3 more water barrels, so we have 5 now and he's rigged them all up under our place, so that hopefully while we are away we will be able to collect some rain water for us to use when we return, as last December our well ran dry! I also had my usual bonfires, painted our outside waste/sewer pipes and started digging a large hole, which will be for the sewer, probably to be finished when we come back next time.

In one spadeful clump of earth, I found I had dug up a snake, which didn't seem to be in too much hurry to escape. I showed it to Adrian who took it further away. This was our first snake of the year, not a particularly big one but a snake nevertheless. Adrian strimmed our grass which was growing rapidly and slopped copious amounts of oil (from our motorhome oil change) mixed with diesel on the wood of the house for protection through the hot summer months. Then he applied a putty substance round all of the windows and black painted the outside of all the windows and doors. We also managed to insure our place for a very reasonable price but just how easy it would be to recover any expenses, if required, is anybody's guess. They can't be as bad as at home though surely - or could they be?

MAY – Still in Bulgaria

The weather changed and became very settled, hot and sunny. We were even able to sit out on the front balcony which is usually far too cold and windy as it faces north. We had some glorious sunsets but once the sun went down we were soon visited by unwelcome mozzies and other flying bugs. Which leads me on to other unwanted visitors we acquired - mice in our roof space, looking for somewhere to nest. For such tiny creatures they sure make a lot of noise. Adrian blocked up the places he thought they were getting in from but the trouble was that two were asleep in the roof, so they made even more noise the next night, looking for a way out! This kept me awake all night so we bought a humane trap which was set up. No luck the first night - one had been in the trap eating the food but hadn't activated it, so Adrian had to adjust it somewhat and sure enough on the second night one was caught. 

It had been making a nest INSIDE the trap and dragging in loads of our fibre glass insulation! It was actually quite cute, with a bushy tail rather like a squirrel. Not sure whether it was half dead or just sleeping (as they do in the daytime) but Adrian took it up the lane and put it out under a bush. The following night, we had the same again, scratching away right at the top of our building, above the bedroom window. So the next day Adrian had to dismantle a wood panel at the front of the house. This mouse was definitely not asleep and as Adrian made a grab for it, high up on the ladder, it decided to make a jump for freedom and proceeded to fly right over his head on to our balcony below, stunning itself in the process. I don't think Adrian had moved so quick in ages, but he was down that ladder in a flash, grabbing hold of its tail, which promptly came off in his hands! He was left clutching a handful of fur, as it would seem these creatures are able to 'release' their tails when in any danger of being caught by a predator (like the gecko we had in our camper in Oz)! He did however manage to get it in the end and we had no more trouble.

The next wildlife entertainment was the snakes. We thought they had mostly disappeared (although this was most probably due to the cool spring weather) but as the temperatures soared, we couldn't have been more wrong! We had an old woodpecker's hole in a cherry tree (quite low, about shoulder height) right outside our kitchen window, where last year a pair of starlings nested and had young ones which flew the nest the day before we left for home. They were lucky. This year another pair of starlings decided to do the same. The eggs had hatched and they had both gone off hunting for food. I was painting nearby, on the other side of the house but you could see underneath to the hole. I heard a commotion of an alarm call from the starlings and looked up only to see the end of a tail disappearing into the nest, with the birds furiously pulling on it and tugging in vain!

So unfortunately for the young (and parent) birds, luck was not on their side, although I didn't really know for sure at that time, as I didn't actually know what had gone into the nest. I banged the tree and shouted thinking something would come rushing out but of course did not see (or hear) anything. The poor starlings hung around all day, flying up and down to the nest, but they certainly were not keen to enter! We decided to staple a netting bag over the entrance to try and capture it, so we could see exactly what it was, but nothing appeared, so then in the evening Adrian had the idea of flushing it out with the hose but then realised there was another hole further down where the water came gushing out! So we assumed we must have missed whatever it was escaping from below.

The following day, we had come back from shopping and were having lunch when I looked out the window and saw a large snake emerging from the hole, which duly disappeared again as soon as it was aware of us. I could not believe, after the previous night's soaking and Adrian's stapling on the tree etc, that it was still resident there. Maybe it had slid higher up inside somewhere! We went inside to finish our lunch and the next moment we saw another big snake on the ground, which quickly slithered up the tree to investigate but of course was unable to get into the nest hole. It was obvious it knew there was another snake in the tree but whether it had come 'to the rescue' of the other one or perhaps 'he' had smelled a female, we don't know.   

Anyway, Adrian decided he did not want this snake hanging around. We were certainly surprised to see just how easily they climbed trees and it would be very easy to climb from the tree on to our roof. Indeed our theory of building on piers and keeping the snakes at bay, no longer seemed to be any deterrent at all! Adrian tried to move it and get it off the tree but this proved impossible, it very quickly slithered right up to the very top of the tree! I have never seen one move so fast. There was nothing we could do and as Adrian was working nearby there was no chance of the snake coming down either. So there it stayed for the rest of the day, curled round the branches, in the afternoon heat, without any shade. At tea time we watched as it came down but this time it was not interested in the other snake at all. I suppose it had had enough excitement for one day. It slid off into next door's vines. At about the same time Adrian saw another snake going past and behind our shed. He thought it was the one from inside the tree hole that had escaped out of the bottom hole but I wasn't so sure, as there were plenty of flies gathering around the netting over the hole.

As it turned out, I was right, as the next day we saw the snake poking its head out again. So we HAD seen 3 big snakes all in one day. We cut the netting off the tree hole and waited but apart from 'her' poking her head out numerous times she did not seem like she wanted to come out at all! So we did wonder if she may have made it her nest now and laid some eggs of her own. We thought it likely she would come out when we were not watching, which would have been a pity as we were curious as to the size of the snake. When we just saw a head poking out, it seemed no bigger than a lizard. Well, after 3 nights in there, she decided to come out, so from our kitchen window we watched her very cautiously, slowly and quietly slither out. It seemed to go on and on forever and, for the tiny head that it had, it sure was big! It was the same type as the one that had been up in our tree tops.

No sooner had it gone (over to next door again) than I saw yet another snake rush out from under the shed, literally jump up in the air and chase a lizard, which duly scampered up the very same cherry tree. However, the snake did not manage to catch it but went up the tree after it and then became very interested in the old birds' nest that the other snake had just emerged from. It had a very good look around inside before coming down again but then started going underneath our property, so again Adrian tried to dissuade it, then it started to climb up one of our piers (the supports our house stands on) and curled through the middle of it (they are hollow). Luckily, when it saw Adrian it did decide to slither off over to our neighbour's garden again.

We only saw one other snake after that (a different type) and as far as I know the snake which had been in the nest hole for 3 nights did not come back again, although I found out that snakes lay their eggs and then go off and leave them to hatch by themselves in a couple of months' time, when they are fully able to fend for themselves. I think though that she had only been interested in the poor, helpless young starlings. However, 2 days before we left to drive home, we saw a pair of blue tits which were very interested in the very same nest hole and it certainly looked as if they were about to build their own nest there. We were not there to see what transpired but I certainly hope they had more luck than the starlings did!

Nature studies aside, (for now anyway) - although that said, there was one day I was hanging my washing out when I heard a roaring noise getting nearer and nearer. I was just wondering what on earth it could be, when I saw a huge black cloud of swarming bees coming my way! I started to run inside, afraid they might have had intentions of landing on me but I needn't have worried, as they flew right over my head and I was fine, but I found it a little worrying all the same! We were pleased that one of our cherry trees had ripened in time to pick the fruit before we left. So Adrian picked what he could and they were very sweet and juicy too.

The Journey Home from Bulgaria (via Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland & Germany)

Then on Sunday 12th May we managed to pack everything up, take it down to our motorhome and go off on our travels once again. We had not been to the Black Sea coast before, so after a bumpy drive east our first stopover was Burgas, where we managed to park up beside the beach. We had a longish walk along the front to the pier and docks in the morning. After lunch we drove north, along to Varna - still on the Black Sea. We had brilliant, hot sunshine during the morning but this all changed in the afternoon when we had torrential rain with thunder and lightning. Cars were littering the sides of the roads, unwilling or unable to drive in such conditions, whilst the roads became flooded and awash with water. 

However, not long afterwards the sun came out and we had clear blue skies again all evening and it turned quite hot again but we did have problems trying to find somewhere to park there and ended up in a large empty car park by a complex/resort. We were not allowed to drive down to it but we walked down after tea and dipped our feet in the Black Sea! We moved on the following day, not far but very close to the Romanian border, where we found a really lovely, very quiet place to park up on the cliffs overlooking the sea. Another bird paradise here with cuckoos, owls, orioles, nightingales and numerous bee-eaters which apparently make their nests in the sandy cliff face. We watched them soaring/gliding along the cliff edge, so effortlessly, their wings appearing to be transparent in the sunlight and showing their beautiful blue and green hues. We also spotted two different sorts of shrikes - a red-backed shrike and a lesser grey shrike, plus another new bird - a pied wheatear.

It was lovely and warm and we decided to stop another night but drove just down the road so we could get closer to the golden sandy beach. There were a few people coming and going, having picnics etc, but overnight we were all on our own. It was so peaceful, without any barking dogs! We walked along the beach, dipping our feet again but sadly came across a dead dolphin which had been washed up. We weren't even aware that there were dolphins in the Black Sea. We sunbathed on the beach for the rest of the afternoon. After tea we saw another camper (Bulgarians) drive along to the end of the beach lane, down to where some wetland lakes start and we walked along to see where they were, as we could see sails in the distance. Two women and a man were kite-surfing the waves. We didn't stay to see any of the lakes or birds as the mozzies were a problem.

We thought we would go the next day by driving round to the other end of the lake by road. We could certainly hear the frogs' chorus though! However, when we did drive round, we were disappointed with the lake. We walked quite a long way on sand and in very hot conditions but you couldn't see much at all as the path did not go round the edge of the lake and it was covered in reeds anyway. We turned back as very dark clouds gathered and later in the day drove through torrential rain and floods again and yet the evening was lovely with a glorious sunset.

Romania

We crossed the border into Romania (currency Lei), paid for a week's 'Rovinetta', as they call the vignette there, and continued along the coast, round Constanta and on to Navodari by a canal. We stayed beside the canal without any problems, although we did have to move further along due to two big packs of dogs nearby! When we got to Tulcea there were several notices saying anything over 3.5 ton was not allowed in the centre. We had wanted a map and tourist office to find the best places to go to see the Danube Delta. Adrian managed to purchase a map from a petrol station, which was the best map we had ever had, laminated all over, and made so it was very easy to fold and did not tear on the very first day (as ours in UK do)! 

We then decided to just drive west and see what we could find, so this we did and we came across a well on a suitable piece of ground for us to stay on and near some of the delta (reed beds). Adrian was able to use the well to bucket water, fill our barrels and then fill the camper tank. It was slow going but he managed. It became very hot whilst we were there and we drove down to the end of the road, to the village of Parches trying to find somewhere to launch our canoe but without knowing the area we were unable to do so. We then asked at a resort place but they would not let us stay there. However, they did say that we could go down a rough track that runs beside them, if we could cope with the conditions of the road. So we walked down first, decided it would be OK and drove the motorhome down beside the water where we parked for the night.

It was a lovely spot, beside the Danube Delta and quite busy with it being a weekend, although everyone else was fishing. After our lunch Adrian blew our canoe up and off we went along the river, which was very nice but also very hot. We saw several small snakes, swimming just below the water surface but I spotted one quite large snake basking in the sun on a tree trunk protruding from the water but of course when it saw us, it slithered straight into the water. We also saw lots of frogs, some sitting on water lily pads, and the noise these frogs were making was quite deafening. In and around the area it was a haven for birdlife: some of which we saw were herons, storks, great egret, pelicans, scops owl (seen in daytime), orioles, shrikes, cuckoos, bee-eaters, swans, divers, shags, a few birds of prey etc, etc. It was here that I spotted my first ever roller. I knew it must be, as they are fairly unmistakable. I had always wanted to see one and in fact saw two. When they fly they are a very vivid luminous blue colouration. So beautiful. We didn't venture out in the evening as there were millions of mozzies, which we found dead all over the motorhome in the morning! However, we were able to sit and watch a beautiful sunset over the Delta.

The next day we drove very carefully out of the lane but we were at such a steep angle that the LPG tank was registering as empty and the engine cut out! We switched over to petrol and managed to start it again and make our way out. We went back to the place we had stayed the previous night to top up with water before leaving and Adrian then decided to give the motorhome a bit of a wash, so I went off for a 'bird spotting' walk. By the time we had finished it was lunchtime, so we had lunch and it was getting very, very hot by then and we were just deciding whether to spend another night there or move on, when a young couple on a motor scooter stopped to speak and we realised they were English. Well, they live in England, although he comes from Romania. His father had sadly passed away suddenly and they had come over for his funeral in Parches. They also had a large campervan which they had driven over in, so of course we had plenty to chat about and in fact we stood outside talking until nearly 7 pm! They then went home and came back again for the evening, bringing with them a bottle of very nice, homemade, strong, fruity red wine made from his mother and father's own grapevines. A very nice couple, whose company we thoroughly enjoyed. 

An interesting evening and in the morning we had just decided to drive back to the village to see where they were staying, when they turned up with his mother, on their way into town. So we didn't chat for long and they were sorry they were going out but said we could go round when they got back and maybe stay in their yard overnight. They were very welcoming but in the end, as we had already stayed in the area several nights and had hoped to see much more before we got home again, plus the fact it was very, very hot and humid and they were going to be several hours in town, we decided to leave.

We settled on a petrol station that night, in Tecuci. We suddenly started having terrific wind, which at first we were very grateful for as it was unbearably hot and humid. We had opened all the windows and door but then after a while we realised that dust was blowing everywhere and then found our motorhome inside and out covered in a sandy dust. It had come through all our fly screens and even the vents! A layer covered our bed, all surfaces and in fact just about every nook and cranny! So much for Adrian having just washed the camper! So the storm arrived with dramatic lightning, lots of thunder and buckets of rain. We had to shut all windows and door and boil! Yet when the morning dawned the sun appeared and we had another very hot day.   We shopped in Kaufland before we left. We were not used to so much choice - a lovely big store. We drove through many, many villages and towns and saw some very interesting and unusual houses. I couldn't begin to describe them, at least not so as to do them justice but it was just as you would imagine Romanian houses to look. They were all very different and unique with just about every colour, shape, size, design and material you could think of. Many of them were very ornate and decorative. The only problem was that they do not give you any places to park and we really would have liked to walk back and take some photos but it wasn't to be, which was a great pity.    

Lots of horses and carts and people sitting outside, whiling the hours away. We also saw them gathering in the crops on very large fields, using only horse and cart. We stopped for the night beside the river Moldova. The previous night's storm had cleared the air somewhat and it was feeling much less humid. It all changed completely in the morning though, when it rained and turned COLD. It was a shock to the system after the last few weeks and indeed only the previous day! The temperature had gone from being in the 30's down to 10 C that day. However, the roads were nearly all good, except when you are directed round the towns! Once again we were unable to find anywhere to park for the night and ended up in a TIR park, which was so noisy with refrigerated lorries that at 1.30 am we made the decision to move somewhere else, although it wasn't a lot better!

Hungary

On to Hungary (currency Forints) where we had difficulty finding anywhere to stay (again). We drove out of a large town on the wrong road but came across a zoo with plenty of parking space for us for the night. We had a nice walk in the evening to a lake, although it was cold. Actually a good night, even though we were parked beside the parrot etc enclosure and we were also serenaded by peacocks! It didn't stop raining all day and in one place we saw the temperature drop to just 8 C! Time to put our clocks back, so at least we had an extra hour, which was needed as, despite hoping to make good progress, this was not to be.

We did find the road we had wanted on the previous day but Adrian had decided to cut across on very small red roads to avoid another very large town and we then found this was not such a good idea. These roads were in a very, very bad condition and we couldn't help thinking the road was about to end, down at some farm somewhere. It didn't but was painfully slow, mile after mile. So what was in fact just a short distance, actually took us all morning.   

Slovakia

No problems crossing the border into Slovakia (Euros) but found getting round Kostice difficult and also later on the very busy city of Presov. Eventually we got to Stara Lubovna, only to find that we would be unable to cross the border into Poland from there as we were over 3.5 ton. So we continued on to Spisska Bela (near the Tatra mountains) where we turned off to make our way along to a different border crossing (into Poland), although before arriving there we found a small lake, cycle path and quiet car park where we settled down for another night.

Poland

We had a cold but quiet night, although another fairly miserable day followed. We drove along the road where we had stopped to eat our lunch 2 years ago (in Tatra mountains) but it didn't look so enticing in the rain, and continued into Poland (currency Zloty) with no border, so no stopping, but we were unaware of the drama that was about to unfold! The last time we were there we had driven on Polish roads (including motorways) free of any charges but it seemed that had all very recently changed and a lot of roads had been tolled - and not just motorways either. It wouldn't have been so bad if there had been toll gates where you either paid on entrance or exit or you took a ticket to be paid further ahead but there was nothing to indicate where, when or how we were expected to pay for the privilege. We started to realise that there were a lot of cameras overhead and we became concerned, so we exited the road, only to find that other roads appeared the same. We did not know what to do. 

We stopped at a McDonalds and managed to get on-line but it was all so confusing and no-one seemed to know or was able to help, so we continued driving northwest. We still were not sure at all whether we should be paying but thought not. We found a chain of big stores and settled for the night in an Auchan car park in Sosnowiec. We had a good look round in the evening, which was nice as they sold just about everything you could think of. It reminded us of Walmart in America. Nobody bothered us (in the car park) that night. A much better, warmer day followed but slow progress as some of the roads were in bad condition and narrow too, with many towns and villages to make our way through, some of which were large sprawls with huge shopping centres. I had never seen so many McDonalds, just one after the other. We spent another very quiet night at a petrol station surrounded by rape-seed fields which looked pretty against the blue sky. We could have been in England! A lovely sunset ended the day.

We stayed off all motorways and made a wide berth of the big city of Poznan, which once again was very time consuming and by mid-afternoon we rejoined the red road (no 2), being a SINGLE carriageway. We had not gone far when we were stopped by Traffic Control who asked us where our 'Via Toll Box' was. We did not have one and were then taken to an ATM machine to withdraw cash for a fine of 3,000 Zloty (approx £700), but British Citizens CANNOT withdraw more than £200 (880 Zloty) in any ONE transaction PER DAY.  

We were subsequently detained for 3-4 hours before being eventually escorted by a breakdown service (at a cost to us, plus of course a waste of more precious fuel) all the way back to the vehicle compound in Poznan (the city we had spent all morning trying to avoid), where we were told to stay (at more cost PER DAY) until we had withdrawn all the funds. We did manage to withdraw the rest of the cash the next day, thankfully, but extra costs were incurred when we were taken to the Transport Dept. in order to produce all our necessary documents. The total amount came to 3,740 Zloty (approx £830)! We had really thought they would let us off with a caution (being foreign travellers) and as the system hadn't been in force very long, but they insisted there was NO way they could do that! We also spoke about calling the police but they said the police would only take us to the compound anyway. Why were we made to feel like criminals? 

We believe this system to be most unfair in our situation as:

A) There were no Toll Stations to either pay anyone cash or to take a ticket.

B) There was no information on where to go to purchase a 'Via Toll Box', or on the weights or prices.

C) There was no information on which roads were affected (even the Transport Dept could not supply us with a map showing which actual roads).

D) The VERY small signs on the roadside show a 'ticket' NOT a 'Via Toll Box'.

E) The forms given to us to sign were NOT in English, so we were unaware of all the implications. We did NOT sign them.

We had been so very careful to avoid the motorways around Poznan and driven on yellow, bad condition roads all morning but could not possibly have known that where we joined the 'number 2' road we would be in so much trouble! No-one seemed to know the rules, not even in the petrol stations, where we stopped 3 times to enquire, nor the lorry drivers themselves. Communication was very difficult, due to the language barrier, but if the Polish people do not know, how can they expect foreign visitors to know. The situation was most unwelcoming, especially for those of us who wish to go sightseeing in this country.

We ourselves curtailed our visit, as we had intended to sightsee along the coastline on the Baltic Sea but decided instead to take the quickest route out of the country. We would have liked to have all the necessary information upon entering Poland at the borders! The fine was an extortionate amount, especially for a private vehicle, and it wasn't as if we were trying to get away with anything but simply that we genuinely did not know what was expected of us.

The Traffic Control Officers who stopped us were pleasant enough and did try to be helpful to us but told us that there was "nothing they could do" and we felt that they could have used a certain amount of discretion, as we had not travelled very far on that particular road, and escorted us onto a road which would have been toll-free. We have appealed against the fine, needless to say, and also written to our MEP.

It rained all night but we were OK in the compound and once everything had been sorted (having fleeced us of several hundred pounds) we were free to go, so we couldn't wait to make a hasty exit. Luckily our SatNav worked in Poland and we were able to find our way out of the city of Poznan, but we WERE nervous of the roads, as although we were told which motorway to leave Poland by (using toll booths) we did not see any for ages. We just kept thinking how ridiculously complicated their system was! Once we came to the toll, it was a case of take a ticket, so no-one to ask how much it was going to cost us to exit the country, but at least we could then relax a bit more, knowing that we were all legal!

In fact it only cost us 67 Zloty which we were grateful for.

Germany-Holland-Belgium-France

When we did get into Germany we found we had become paranoid about road tolls and imagined they too had 'jumped on the money making band wagon' and were about to hit us with some charge or another that they had introduced overnight. Once again we stopped and asked in a McDonalds and they said definitely NOT but we saw a few signs that said 'Zoll' so a bit later on we asked a lorry driver who said we most probably DID need to pay if over 3.5 ton! It was getting beyond a joke but we left the motorway, although we then had many towns, villages and narrow roads which were often badly in need of repair, plus we had an awful cold, rainy day too, so it was pretty slow travelling and pretty miserable.

Anyway we passed Hanover and Paderborn and continued on to a supermarket car park in Bekum, where we stopped overnight. It rained all night. We drove westward and took the motorway again at the Dutch border at Venlo. In fact the rest of our journey was on motorways (Holland and Belgium) but it took us all of that day (and evening) before we arrived at Dunkirk. Antwerp was a huge place with spaghetti junction type roads to negotiate and far too many miles of nightmare road works. Somehow we took a wrong road at Gent and found ourselves in a huge traffic jam but we drove a short way down a road we were not really supposed to (as it was closed off for resurfacing) and managed to rejoin the road we wanted!

We eventually arrived in Dunkirk, where we stayed for the night and we were up quite early (for us) in order to board the DFDS ferry at 9.15 am but our motorhome had other ideas. Adrian tried to start the motor but it was not responding! We were not going anywhere. So we had to cancel our ferry and book the next one at 12.30 pm. On went the overalls and lots of clambering about underneath (for Adrian) and laying in the dirt (good job it wasn't raining that day) to dismantle and try to fix a connection with the starter motor. However, whilst attending to this, some damage was done to a cable which he was not sure he would be able to fix/replace whilst there. He improvised and did manage to sort us out for our final leg of the trip and we were just in time to line up for the ferry home. Luckily (for once) they did not charge us any extra costs.

Return to England

It was very cold and misty at the port but we were pleasantly surprised to see sunshine on our arrival in Dover, for a change. In fact the following few days were very nice and I did think it may be our only bit of 'summer' once again! We had a good, calm crossing and put our clocks back another hour, remembering to drive on the left. We bought flowers for Mum and Dad's grave and our first Chinese takeaway in 9 months and went along to the churchyard (in the Essex countryside) where we ate our meal in the car park. We spoke to the vicar, who happened to come along, and he said it would be OK to stay overnight there. So this we did and spent the evening laying flowers, weeding, trimming the edges and cleaning the headstone on the grave. It was a glorious evening with a lovely sunset and the birds singing. Mum used to say that she hadn't heard the cuckoo for years but she can hear lots of different birds now, including the cuckoo. It really is a lovely, peaceful place, on the hilltop (where we were married) with a view at night of twinkling lights for miles, but it did feel quite surreal being so close to their grave. We had a quiet, peaceful night anyway.

JUNE – Back in Norfolk

We met up with Adrian's mother and father in a restaurant (in Chelmsford) where we had lunch, afterwards going back to their home (the place where Adrian grew up) until the evening, when we drove north on the final leg of our trip, back up to Norfolk once again. We found we had mislaid our door key, so spent the night in our motorhome but our son came over in the morning with his spare key. All was very good with our house (no leaks) but of course the garden was the usual jungle and with 9 months of mail to be sorted, it kept us busy. We did have a few days of very nice weather but this soon came to an end, with the rest of June being another miserable, cold month, which seems to be the norm now but at least we did not have to endure the freezing temperatures they had had over the winter months! Not surprisingly, everything in the garden had been very slow to make an appearance but at least it wasn't apparent that I had lost anything, so I was glad about that. 

We set about compiling our letter of appeal to the Polish Authority. We also had to appeal against another fine which had come in the post, for not putting our newly acquired scooter (which we do not use in this country) into SORN whilst away. We had bought it to be used and left abroad, not thinking that, as it was registered in our name, when the tax ran out (whilst away) it would need to be in SORN. Apparently (unbeknown to us, as we were away then too) in 2011 it was made law that if a vehicle is not put into SORN, and your insurance expires, you would also receive a fine for that too! They were not interested in our reasoning, so that was another £100 to add to our earlier fine. We were doing well! ALSO, we found out whilst away that our driving licences had expired! We really got caught out on that one (as did other people, we spoke to) as we were both under the impression that the expiry dates on our green paper licence (which in our case was dated 2025) was the date we needed to go by but for all of us who travel abroad and are in possession of a driving licence CARD, this has to be renewed every 10 years (complete with updated photo, which they print in black and white now, so it doesn't do you any justice at all)! Yet more expense!

Adrian started looking around for a smaller motorhome but, as usual, anything even half decent was so far away - and when you go and view them, you wish you hadn't bothered because they are just not what they're claimed to be. Obviously nothing will match up to our spacious motorhome which we have been using for nearly 5 years now. I suppose that's the problem really but we just can't justify the running costs. Anyway, we gave up on that idea, for the time being anyway, so Adrian set about doing the '101' jobs on the motorhome that we seem to have to do each year, in order to get it through the MOT again and hopefully for it to be reliable for another year possibly, although we may decide to leave it in Bulgaria when we leave there next year.    

It's a very heavy 'machine' for Adrian to work on and to carry out all the mechanical repairs but he always does a very good, splendid, thorough job. We also made some changes inside, by reducing the size of our bed (it was queen size) and making a fair bit of extra space in the bedroom. Both gas fires had to be completely stripped down and our scooter also had to be checked over. Our leisure batteries were 'dead' and this became a big and difficult problem knowing how to tackle the amount of power we use, bearing in mind that we are never on mains electric. The batteries do not have a long enough lifespan for us! Then came the usual MOT time for our car, which again Adrian always services himself. New tyres all round, due to the amount of time our car had been left standing before we acquired it (a South African import which had been stored in a lock-up for a long time but had done very few miles).

We had problems with the exhaust emissions, brakes etc, etc and on the morning of the MOT we passed a lorry which threw up a stone that made a nasty crack on our windscreen, only to be told by our insurance company that we were not actually covered for our screen! So a new screen had to be fitted and by the time everything had been sorted, it had probably cost us nearly as much as the car was worth but as it's not really used here much it's not worth us getting anything decent. Next job was the MOT and insurance for the motorhome, which was also an absolute nightmare, as indeed it always has been. The insurance companies change (overnight) the places they will and won't insure you for and Turkey seems to have become very tricky now.

In August Adrian did find another old small campervan (fairly locally) which we purchased at a low price, due to the fact that the wooden structure of the body was completely rotten, although the chassis and engine etc were very good. It is another American (left-hand drive) motorhome, a Toyota HiLux EFI Sea Breeze. So whilst this will not be ready to use this year, Adrian has already stripped the bodywork down completely, after having retrieved all appliances, seats, windows, fixtures and fittings etc, etc. He is now rebuilding the framework, but whether we will take the Fleetwood Fiesta motorhome back down to Bulgaria again or not remains to be seen at this moment in time (September), or whether we will do something completely different (like go off to America again) we still cannot decide, but autumn has definitely arrived and we DO NOT like our miserable winters!

Will keep everyone posted on our plans in due course.

Images of the Wilson's Journey

Click on any image to begin a slide show with enlarged images and captions. 

In Serbia on the Road to Bulgaria

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/qbqapqbgrobflz0/mIk59rgemH

Adrian and Brenda at Work on their House in Bulgaria

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/wahhzh3syeu6050/9PDdsL8aks

The Motorhome Journey through Greece

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/97mtko9qmpbpuwb/GRp_8gqSeq

The Return Journey from Bulgaria to England via Poland!

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/7ceaxlwji5vsion/-WJDrREJaD