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Yorkshire to Greece (Maggie Bevis) PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

From Penistone to the Peloponnese (Yorkshire to Greece)

Our Second European Motorhome Journey

Summer 2006

Maggie Bevis (with Pete)

January 2007

Unusually for a MagBazTravels 'Fellow Traveller', we have never met Maggie Bevis, though we look forward to doing so. We have exchanged many emails on motorhoming subjects, centring on Maggie's love for Greece and her appreciation of our MMM article: 'Camping Karpouzi'.

This detailed daily diary takes us from Maggie's home in Penistone, on the edge of the Pennines in what is now called 'South Yorkshire', all the way to the Greek Peloponnese and back again. As well as being essential reading for any motorhomer planning to visit southern Greece, it gives its readers a fascinating insight into the life of the new breed of trans-European travellers in their covered wagons!

Foreword

We didn't do as much planning for this holiday as we had the previous year (see Maggie's Yorkshire to Slovenia) but we looked forward to it even more than last year - sunshine and sea! We booked the ferry from Dover to Calais with P&O ferries, and the ferry from Ancona to Patras with ANEK, on-line. We hoped to meet up with Nikos from Athens in the Mani and to see Adale's friends Hilary and Paul in Xarokopio, but we didn't plan any dates to meet up as we had decided we would go where we wanted, wishing to stay as long as we could in places we liked.

Here is the daily diary of the journey.

Tuesday 18th July   France   Aire du Souchez

We had a blisteringly hot drive down to Dover through road works on the M1 with traffic jams and we needed the new plastic plug-in fan. It was so humid and hot. We used the cool box with lots of cold water and cool baby wipes but it wasn't a comfortable drive. We got to the ferry in good time but not as early as we'd planned because of the road works. We got diesel in Dover at 99.9p a litre – expensive. The ferry 'Pride of Boulogne' was nice and it was lovely to sit on the veranda area in the sunshine watching the white cliffs disappear into the distance. The sea was flat and calm. I got a magazine for £2 instead of £3.20 - some computer error.

We drove out of Calais towards Paris and St. Omer and stayed overnight in Aire du Souchez where we stayed last year. A refrigerated lorry parked near us was a bit noisy through the night.

Wednesday 19th July   Germany   Neuenburg West Services

We left the Aire at 9.30 am and called next at Aire du Baraille for fuel: it looks a better place to overnight next time. After 2 hours we stopped at Aire D'Esperance for coffee in the van. There's a motorhome waste water and loo emptying place there but no cafι or fuel. We stopped for lunch at Aire du Longeville where we found some shade to eat a salad and Pete had a little nap. We did a 'reccie' of Aires and parking spaces around Freiburg for future use and found one with loos and shade, which was a bit further away from the road than most, after Schauinsland services and before the Bad Bellingen exit. We cooked pork chops at Neuenburg West services, where Pete chatted to a German lorry driver for ages.

Thursday 20th July   Italy   Camping Arizona, Tabiano

There was some road noise last night but we had a decent sleep. Pete checked the tyre pressures and put the warning sign on the bike rack. We paid for a vignette at the Swiss border though we could have bought one at Bad Bellingen services, where we should have also got diesel as it was more expensive in Switzerland. It was a hot start to the day and we thought we'd taken a wrong turning in Strasbourg but it was okay. I didn't want to stay in another Aire (I wanted a good long shower) so we scanned through the Caravan Club book for a site. We stopped to shop in Fidenza and got some Euros.

We drove in the Salsomaggiore direction to Tabiano to Camping Arizona. The friendly owner's dad took us to our place down at the bottom of the camp site, which is in woods on the side of a hill. It had four swimming pools, a Jacuzzi, a restaurant, etc so we had a swim, a sit in the late sunshine and a long hot shower. Pete cooked local sausage outside and it was cool and lovely after a roasting hot day. The backgammon set got an airing with the usual result (will I ever win a game?)

Friday 21st July   Italy   Camping Fano, Fano

Pete drove three and a half hours in heavy traffic down the Autostrada towards Ancona. We saw some absolutely crazy driving with one car cutting across us and a truck - how we didn't hit it we'll never know. Pete saw an overturned van and the traffic that it caused held us up. Autostradas are very boring though you can't take your eyes off the road in case you miss a junction. I looked in the Caravan Club book again and decided to stay at camping Fano, though the police helped us to find it! We were turning round after a missed turn and poor signposting when they turned up and gave us directions. The arch under the railway at the approach (3.40 m) didn't look too promising but Pete did it and with some nifty manoeuvring got us in a nice spot with sea view in partial shade.

We only had to go through a small gate onto a white pebble beach. There was a lagoon to the right and a sandy beach safe for children to swim. People were swimming and catching mussels and using a sort of rotary drum to clean them in the sea. We had a super swim in clean water and a sit in the sun on flat rocks. After a shower, we had a good walk round the large site, looked at the bar and pool and the ladies who were encouraging children to play. We shopped at the little camp shop before ordering fritto misto and pizza from the takeaway. Washed down with a bottle of wine, it was delicious. It was very quiet in the night and quite cool.

Saturday 22nd July   Italy   ANEK Ferry 'Olympic Champion'

We talked to two English couples opposite - eating Crunchy Nut cornflakes, a bit of a giveaway. We had fresh bread and coffee before a swim and a shower. Then we set off for Ancona via the coast road. We got to Ancona at 12.45 pm. We parked in the queue and went to pick up the tickets. There was a cool breeze on the dockside next to the 'Olympic Champion' and we watched all the comings and goings. We got loaded on board without any problems at 2.30 pm - unfortunately next to a lorry which blocked the light a bit but we got hooked up to electric then settled down on deck with a beer and a coke in the sunshine, watching Italy slip into the distance. We were amused watching the kids jumping in the swimming pool and people settling down to sleep for the night under the 'do not sleep here' signs. We went back to the van and had showers in the boat's facilities. In the evening, they netted the pool over and we had a plate of gyros (we couldn't resist!) watching a lovely sunset.

Sunday 23rd July   Greece   Camping Aginara Beach (€21.00)

We were awakened by the tannoy telling us we were in Igoumenitsa, where lots of people got off. We were left lorry-less and with lots of light and space. We had a lovely view of Kefalonia and Ithaca from the deck after a coffee and bacon breakfast. Sitting on the deck in the sunshine, watching the islands slip past, we heard the siren call of a cold beer. We docked about 1 pm and headed off towards Pyrgos. We decided to go to camping Aginara Beach for the night. We were welcomed at the gate by the owners and told to go and find where we wanted to set up. We walked round the site and after much deliberation settled on a site near the beach, shaded with a sea view.

Pete cooked chops and I did potato salad after a lovely swim and sit on the beach. The pitch has electric and water. As we ate, two Skops Owls came and sat in the tree next to us and, though we couldn't see them, they hooted their funny little 'skops' noise right next to us. We got binoculars out and lay on the sun beds looking at the millions of stars, two satellites and a shooting star - wonderful. We settled down for the night listening to the owls and the rustling of the eucalyptus trees.

Monday 24th July    Greece    Camping Aginara Beach

We woke up when we heard next-door starting breakfast, so we had English breakfast outside. I sat and read while Pete went to the site shop for bread, then I did some washing. We went to the beach were we swam, dozed, read and watched our neighbours' catamaran being towed in with a broken mast. A gin and tonic in the cool evening breeze was wonderful before going to the site Taverna. We had an interesting time choosing what to eat, with no menus and waiting staff who are very much accustomed to Dutch and German visitors. The waiter was happy and very smiley speaking Greek to us and we had saganaki cheese, salad, and pork chops with retsina and soda.

Tuesday 25th July   Greece   CampingAginara Beach

We had scrambled eggs for breakfast, because the egg box fell out of the fridge when I opened it (too many beers in there). Pete went for a cycle ride into Glyfa. New neighbours arrived in a fabulous grey and blue Hymer classic with all the toys. They also had a long-haired Alsatian who looked rather hot. Pete started talking to the man who was cleaning his van but there was a language problem until Lianne, his wife, came back from a cycle ride to Kastro and round about. Norbert is Danish and Lianne is Austrian and they live an hour north of Vienna. They asked us round for a beer, a look in their fabulous van with customised paint job and huge fridge and we chatted until lunchtime. We went for a swim off the beach, which is tiny shingle and good to sit on, but the sea wasn't good for snorkelling as the sand was stirred up. We ate again in the Taverna, where Pete had fish - tsipoura. I really wanted some hummus but they didn't have any and weren't really sure what it was. I explained that it was chick peas (revithia) and the waiter suggested arakas - how was I to know that arakas are peas? But I had a plateful. Even with wine, ice cream and beef stifado (stew), the meal only came to 25 euros.

When we got back to the van, we fancied hot chocolate (mad, I know, it was still warm outside) and we saw Lianne and Norbert and invited them round for a drink. Another couple of hours passed … they were stunned by the inside of our van. Norbert loved it and they said they'd never seen anything like it before. They loved all the cupboards and the light dimmer switch … and the fact that it was cosy and has lots of sitting room. (Well done Autotrail: we love our Cheyenne 630 too.) They had been touring the Peloponnese and gave us some useful opinions about places they'd visited. They left with our MMM magazine to read.

Wednesday 26th July   Greece   Kyparissia, Camping Kyparissia (€20.50)

We got up early and prepared to leave but not before Lianne and Norbert had invited us to their house in Hernbaumgarten, Austria and we exchanged contact details. Camping Aginara cost 21 euros a night and it had reasonable showers, a beach bar, a Taverna and a good position by the sea, though it was uphill to the nearest village.

We drove through Gastouni (narrow) into Pyrgos, where we stocked up at AB supermarket with olives, feta and all the Greek food we've been missing. We got some money from the cash machine then drove into town to exchange some sterling but we couldn't find a bank, so we drove round again and parked past the supermarket. Pete went into town on his bike and was successful at the Bank of Cyprus. We drove down past Kaiafa Lake and thermal springs (possible parking overnight) and into the town of Kyparissia. The site didn't look promising at first but the manager was very friendly and we drove past the green lawned restaurant to a pitch overlooking the beach under a bamboo awning.

The manager told us to walk further along to the right for a beautiful beach, though the beach we were on was fine. We did walk along and it was super beach with clear sea, shade from some rocks and snorkel-friendly. I played 'chase' with a big tsipoura who touched my hand. It was lovely swimming. We weren't too keen on the narrow pitch under the bamboo, as we felt too close to our neighbours. The buildings for showers etc were tile-roofed and made of stone and the views were good. The tiles inside the shower block are the same as our friend's in Greece, so they are definitely from the 60's! The crusader castle was lit up at night, though hardly distinguishable in the daytime. We ate 'in' and went for an evening walk.

Thursday 27th July   Greece   Methoni, Municipal Campsite (€16.39)

We drove through Kyparissia which was busy (and could have been avoided by using the dockside road), through Filiatra which was also full of traffic and chaotic. Pete wanted to stop for bread there but I just wanted to get through and out of it. We drove on past Agia Kiriaki, where a little harbour looked inviting and there was possible parking, and stopped in Marathopoli. In a roadside Kafenion we had a beer and lemonade which came with free mezze – sardines, tomatoes, chips and bread - and all for €3.70. We got bread and cheese pies and walked along the little harbour front. It felt nice there. We bought a cheap sun brolly as ours has long since been consigned to the bin: €7.50.

We drove on to Navarino Bay – supposedly one of the best beaches in Greece. The campsite only had room for us to stay two nights and Pete kept changing his mind about whether he wanted to stay there or not. I suppose it was the sandy beach which made him decide not to stay, that and the proximity of other campers We drove on through the very pretty port of Pylos to Methoni, where we had to wait to get into the campsite as an enormous fifth-wheeler tried to get through the narrow gates. It's a municipal site and cheap at €16.39 a night with electric.

We parked unknowingly between two English caravans in the field but soon got to know both families who have been coming here for many years. Joan, aged 85, is an honorary citizen of Methoni and leaves her caravan here over winter. She's been coming here for 35 years and told us lots about the area. Our pitch was under two trees. There's not a great deal of shade in that field; there's much more in the main part of the camp but the field is spacious. We had a lovely view of the castle of Methoni and the sea, just across the road. The showers are very basic but the electricity is full strength and we were told there were no worries about using all appliances here. There's a Taverna on site with free iced water on tap near the entrance. It's 5 minutes' walk into the town, where there's everything you'd need. We went to Nikos Taverna, which was recommended, and for 25 euros we had a wonderful meal with loads of wine.

Our friend Nikos rang from Athens to say he's going to Mykonos, where his son has been signed to play for the local team, so we won't meet him in Mani as we'd hoped.

Friday 28th July   Greece   Methoni

There was a lovely breeze and we did some housekeeping, pulling up the mats that we'd stuck down with carpet tape (bad idea). Pat, Joan's daughter, a swimming instructor, brought us some super bread from Pylos - brown and seeded. Pete cooked chops and sausage for lunch, as they needed using up, but I wasn't hungry at all. We had a swim in the sea, which is like a big swimming pool: sand on the bottom, shallow till a long way out, warm water, safe for kids. Windsurfer and canoe hire is next door to the camp. A big fish terrified Pete by staring straight at him! We also saw hermit crabs and loads of starfish. We saw a long thin fish hiding in the sand with just its tail showing - should look that one up in a book. We cycled along the beach in the opposite direction to town and ended up in a Cantina at the end of the bay with ouzo and mezze (anchovies, peppers and aubergine) watching the sunset. I cooked a meal for Pete and a soft boiled egg for me.

Saturday 29th July   Greece   Methoni

We had a call from home to say that a friend had died, which was very sad but expected. We cycled into Methoni to the bakery, but outside the butcher's I had a bit of a panic attack (not had one of those for ages). It must have been the heat, the cars and not feeling too good. We went to the internet cafι where Pat and Joan were having coffee and I joined them, while Pete popped to the Dia supermarket. We cycled back and had salad then went for a swim.

In the evening we went to the wonderful castle where there was an open-air classical concert. The lighting and sound made this free concert a spectacular occasion. We ate at Nikos again - the sardines were super and the spaghetti with beef was delicious. The local rose wine goes down a treat and tastes faintly of strawberries. Neither of us checked that we'd brought money, so it was a bit embarrassing when the bill came. The waiter said 'bring it tomorrow' but Pete went back to the campsite to get some money and cycled back. We walked back to the site with Pat, who told us about her windsurfing lesson that day.

Sunday 30th July   Greece   Methoni

We were woken by the sound of church bells and the priest doing the service through a sound system. I had a bad stomach in the night and had been shivering. I did some washing and just read, after coffee and toast. Pete went off for a swim. I tried the newer shower block but there was no hot water so I came back and used the van shower, which was lovely. Pete spoke to friends in Athens who are off to Crete when Dragana gets back from Belgrade, so we won't meet up with them. Pete barbecued some chicken with lemon juice and herbs, which was delicious.

Monday 31st July   Greece   Methoni

We heard the sea this morning - it was a bit rough. We went to Methoni castle on the bikes, left them at the entrance and walked round the huge, magnificent site (free entrance). It was very hot and there was no breeze but the castle was very interesting, with tunnels and rooms still accessible, though not much information about the site itself. There were loads of flowers, tall purple drumsticks that weren't quite open but will be an amazing site when they do. After getting hot and soggy, we went down to the internet cafι for coffee and beer, and the waitress brought us huge glasses of ice cold water too. We shopped at Dia and the bakery. While we were snorkelling we found a tiny white heart urchin, so we gave it to Joan who was very pleased. We ate out on the front having kontosouvla (sort of roast belly pork) and kokoretsi (innards wrapped in intestines and grilled on a spit). We also had fakes (lentils) and chips. We stopped to sit on a bench and look at the lights of the castle dancing on the sea.

Tuesday 1st August   Greece   Methoni

Pete went shopping while I read up on Finikounda and Koroni. I sent a text message to Adale's friends, Hilary and Paul, and decided we would go there on Thursday en route to Koroni. We had a swim and watched the comings and goings on the narrow pebble beach before having a glass of wine with Joan and Pat. We swapped some books too. We ate late but Pete had to get up in the night as he had a bad stomach - maybe it's too much of the lovely iced water here.

Wednesday 2nd August   Greece   Methoni

Pete was okay this morning and Chris and Dave from England in the other English van asked us if we'd like to go to Pylos with them and their daughter. Pete was in a shop for ages, talking to the owner and buying skini-rope which is sold by the kilo and really cheap at €3.50. The father and son in the shop were lovely and we spent ages talking about football (AEK fans). They called Olympiakos 'gavri' (small fish) and fell about laughing when Pete talked about Vaselas – the Panathenikos nickname. We dragged ourselves away and into the bakery where the baker was equally friendly, taking Pete into the kitchen to compare ovens with those of friend Dimitris on Halki. We met up with Chris, Dave and Becky for a lovely lunch on the quayside with super tiropitakia.

When we came back we decided we really should move tomorrow so we gathered stuff together. We went to 'O Kypos' for a pizza in a lovely little garden with peach trees, tomatoes etc growing all round us. Walking back, we saw a red moon rise above the castle. We stopped off at the campsite Taverna and had a drink with Becky, Chris, Dave and a Belgian couple who have also been coming here for years. It's easy to see why, it's a wonderful spot and so friendly.

Thursday 3rd August   Greece   Saint Friday's Villas Xarokopio

Hilary and Paul's website (www.St.Fridays.com) describes the route to their villas and says at one point "it's looks like you're driving through someone's back yard" and it does too! It was a mega-hairy drive and I was really worried about the narrow road, tight corners and the scratchy noise the olive branches were making going down the side of the van, but we got there and parked at the bottom of the villas, in the field which is set to become a swimming pool next year. The villas are surrounded by olive groves and have views over to Mani, Kalamata and Koroni. The family (Hilary, Paul and the three girls: Eleni, Katie and Anna) are living in one of the apartments, while they are building a three bedroom apartment under the two they rent out. It looks like it will be a really nice house.

After lunch on their balcony, where Pete raved about the taste of the tomatoes and talked history and politics with Paul, Hilary took us down to the sea in the Land Rover (though it's walkable). The girls were fascinated with the van, which was a bit like a Wendy house for them. We swam and played in the sea, then later on Paul drove us all into Koroni for a drink by the water's edge and gyros at Annie's in a back street. Anna was asleep on Hilary's knee most of the evening, as she hadn't had a nap in the day. Hilary and Paul were very hospitable and very good company. Considering we'd only met Hilary once for an hour in Edinburgh at Adale's, it was very kind of them to let us park there and take us out too.

Friday 4th August   Greece   Agias Andreas

After cheese pies with Hilary and the girls, we packed up and drove back up the scratchy narrow lane to Xarokopio and through it to Agias Andreas, where the sign for the campsite looked like it was a no right turn, so we missed it. Pete had a good feeling about the place, so we turned round further along and came back. It's a super little site under 60 eucalyptus trees for shade, next to the beach with a beach bar, Taverna and play area for kids. There was an organised youth group camping near the entrance, so we were directed past there to choose a place.

We parked under the trees, though there were spaces next to the beach under bamboo awnings, but we had a sea view. We got set up and went for a swim. The water shelves steeply after a few metres and it was calm and clear with sand and rocks on the bottom, making it good for snorkelling. We saw loads of big fish. We went to get shopping in a well stocked mini-market just a few minutes' walk away and treated ourselves to an ice cream sitting by the small harbour. After another swim and a good shower we went to Zorbas for beef kokkinisto.

Saturday 5th August   Greece   Agias Andreas

We woke to find we had neighbours - a Karagiosi (shadow puppet) show and three men in a little van. They came from Athens and were doing a show here later in the day. Hilary sent a text to tell us that she and the girls were coming over for the day, so Pete went shopping for bread, beer and biscuits for the girls. When they arrived Katie realised she'd not got her shoes, so we went to the shop to buy flip-flops. We went swimming for hours with the snorkels and lilos and found some hermit crabs, which fascinated the girls. They are all water babies and the older girls are good swimmers. Anna, the youngest, was trying hard to swim and enjoyed having my mask on.

We had lunch at the beach bar before more swimming and then hide and seek among the trees. Pete barbecued pork chops for dinner and they were delicious. I was tired and almost asleep at the table but we went for a walk to see the Karagiosi men playing in the square to a full audience. The shadow puppet story is very traditional and the show was fairly primitive but the kids loved it.

Sunday 6th August   Greece   Agias Andreas

We went for a walk along the beach to have a picnic but the pebbles weren't good for walking on and it was a little bit cloudy. We walked to the mouth of a river and saw big tadpoles, dragonflies and fish before walking back to the end of 'our' beach to swim. The sun brolly wouldn't stay up in the wind so we came back to the van. Later in the day the weather changed and the water was so flat and calm, we floated about on the lilo having a long conversation. We had to close the van roof though as the leaves and twigs were blowing in. In the evening we heard and saw the 'Circus Theatre' where a travelling group had set up. The marina area was very busy with families from the hill villages nearby, who had come to eat and have a volta.

More neighbours arrived: a Greek family with caravan, awning, fridge, TV, oven and a string of orange light bulbs, which meant we could no longer sit outside the van watching the stars because of the glare from their lights. We had to walk to the beach instead.

Monday 7th August   Greece   Agias Andreas

Pete, the shopper man, went to the butchers and brought back souvlaki. We had a treat today: bacon and eggs. The bread here is very good. The weather was cooler and cloudier than yesterday but very pleasant, so we walked up the hill into Longa, the next village. It was an interesting walk, seeing loads of fruit trees and olive trees and had beer and coffee just below the church (€2). We watched some scary parking going on, as the Noy Noy delivery lorry reversed up the hill. We came back down and had a swim and there were lots of big fish close to shore. I followed a shoal of about 20 around for a while. I then decided that we should be like the Greeks and Italians who set up 'camp' on the beach, complete with brollies, tables and chairs, so we took the lilos, the sun-bed and a chair down to the sea. We even ate ice lollies whilst floating on the lilo - what a lazy peaceful and comfortable afternoon. We went to the vegetable shop for green beans and carrots, as I'm missing veg.

We took the chairs back onto the beach to watch the sunset colour the Mani opposite and drink ouzo.

Tuesday 8th August   Greece   Stoupa, Camping Kalogria

We moved on via Kalamata (busy!) to Stoupa along a lovely scenic road. Hilary had told us to look out for people selling oranges on the way to Kalamata, so we bought a sack of oranges for €5 and then bought a lemon squeezer in the Champion supermarket on the way into the town. We stocked up with groceries too.

Turning right at the crossroads before Stoupa, we came to camping Kalogria. The camp site owner was lovely and very friendly and came over later with a bottle of his olive oil. The site is shady and busy but we had a good space. We could see the sea from our pitch on the hill above two bays, Kalogria and Stoupa. We got our swimming stuff to go to the beach at Kalogria, 2 minutes' walk down the hill away, but were horrified to find the small sandy beach was a teeming mass of humanity with barely a metre of sand unoccupied. We couldn't believe it and we were so disappointed. We didn't expect a deserted beach but this was awful! We just don't like being around lots of people.

We tried walking round rocky cliffs towards Kardamyli through olive groves but there was nowhere to swim and the sea was rough. We went back to the van and had a cool drink, then decided to walk down the hill in the opposite direction. The beach at Stoupa was also very busy but we found a spot and had a swim in the choppy water, listening to the sounds of the English package tourist … I know, we've been package tourists and still sometimes do it but we don't shout at the tops of our voices and sit in full sun barbecuing ourselves. Whatever do the Greeks think of our strange ways?

We walked through Stoupa and came to a small beach with hardly anyone there, about 2 minutes' walk from the busy beach. We had ouzo and a beer watching the sun on the mountains before calling in at the amazing supermarket Katerina – shelves groaning with goodies. We got an International Guardian as a treat.

Pete made a litre of juice and it was wonderful. I was tired and ouzo-ed and fell asleep so we didn't go out till 10 o'clock, though that's early for Greeks. We simply went left out of the camp gate and followed our noses to a gyros and pitta place nearby. I had gyros and Pete had spaghetti carbonara, which was very good and cheap. It's handy to know that they do take-away food too.

Wednesday 9th August   Greece   Stoupa

I cooked some part-baked bread and had it with fresh coffee. We read books and newspapers and then walked down to a quieter beach. The sea was calm and we had a lovely swim. The sea got up in the afternoon, which seems usual. We called in the super supermarket for eggs, did some washing and watched as a German family with a huge caravan, five children and a dog arrived. They needed lots of help from lots of people to wriggle into a space. Stavrou the owner helped, even though it was late - can't quite see that happening on a Caravan Club site.

Thursday 10th August   Greece   Stoupa

It was a bit cloudy and there was a short shower, so we went into Stoupa for lunch at 'To Steki' and had gyros. We went round to the quiet beach for a swim and I chased a huge fish into a gap in a rock - how I wished I'd had a net! We went to watch the sunset at a little Taverna at the southern end and after an ouzo with a fantastic view, we had a fish mezze while we talked to the waiter. We didn't get the sunset, due to the clouds, but got some good photos. The rain held off till later, when we ate in the Panorama restaurant overlooking Kalogria Beach, but it had stopped before we walked back.

Friday 11th August   Greece   Kardamyli, Camping Ta Delfinia

We said goodbye to Stavrou after showing him the entry in the Caravan Club book, which he was pleased about, and doubled back to Kardamyli. We parked on the beach road and I walked to find the non-existent caravan site - now a hotel. We parked with other vans next to the white pebble beach and will probably stay there another time. We cycled into the village, had a good look round and got coffee and pies. I bought a super camping accessory - a big basil plant. I'd noticed Greek campers with basil plants and realised that they are a good mozzie deterrent!

We went to camping Ta Delfinia, back on the road towards Stoupa. It's in an olive grove but there wasn't much room for us. We were next to the shop and Yiannis the owner was very friendly, as were the different types of hens roaming the site. We went down the hill to the beach where Pete did a construction job with a stick and a bit of metal to make a jelly fish catcher, as there were quite a few about. We walked along the headland where you can see Stoupa. The camp mini-market wasn't very well stocked and the showers were a bit on the grim side, but we found out that hens love cooked spaghetti.

Saturday 12th August   Greece   Neo Itilo

We decided against staying any longer at Ta Delfinia and drove on, past Agios Nikolaos as Paul had said it would be too narrow to park in. The road after that climbed steeply with spectacular, almost aerial views and we could see that if we'd gone in the second turning to Ag Nik we could have gone along the seafront and stopped there - next time! The road through the villages got a bit narrow on the top but then we got fabulous views over Limeni and Neo Itilo. Limeni is where our friend Nikos Yerakaris has his olive trees.

We parked up next to the sea in Neo Itilo and had a walk along to the Black Pirate fish restaurant for coffee and cheese pies, then back to the van for a swim. Sadly there was a lot of tar on the white pebbles and the sea was full of plastic bags, really spoiling a beautiful spot. The locals didn't seem bothered, as many came to swim early evening. There were 15 camper vans parked overnight, mostly Italian, but lots more came and went during the day. Pete biked round the bay to the North end and found another good spot to stay, past 'O Faros' fish restaurant (water available). We went back to the Black Pirate for squid and gavros (anchovies) and spoke to an American-Greek lady, whose husband was a gunnery bloke at Southsea.

Sunday 13th August   Greece   Neo Itilo, 'O Faros'

We were woken by church bells and the sound of the sea. We drove up to Areopoli. The road above Limeni gave us a lovely view so we stopped to take photos of the wonderful colours in the sea. We went to the bank in Areopoli and a walk round the lovely Maniot town. We bought a skoupidi (dustpan). We decided to go back to Limeni, parking on rough ground by the junction with the main road, as the village looked very narrow - a good move! Lots of families had come down for a swim and Sunday lunch. We had a super swim off some rocks in clear and unbelievably blue water. We drove back to Neo Itilo, past where we camped last night, to 'O Faros' Taverna.

It was quite a narrow road but it led us to a lovely flat field with wonderful views and a breeze. We set up and walked to a place in the rocks, like a little white rock fjord, and swam from there. We had to put the awning in at dusk because the breeze got up. We went to the fish restaurant for dinner and I made the mistake of letting Pete choose the fish - it was expensive! However, the setting was perfect. There were four vans on the field including ours and a friendly cat came to see us.

Monday 14th August   Greece   Githio, Camping Githion Bay

A very quiet night. We moved on to Githio and parked in the port car park. We went onto the islet and to the Mani museum, where we found a reference to an ancestor of Nikos Yerakaris. It wasn't much of a museum but it had old books about the Mani, kept behind glass. Still at €1.47 to get in …

We bought bread and had coffee at the port, where a kind waiter jumped onto a moored boat to rescue a child's fishing line that had got caught. We drove on through Githio, as I could see vans parked at the far end of the bay. There were places to park close to town on the seafront but better still, about 1 km out, there was a beach restaurant with free parking and loos and a shower on the beach. We went back through town, which was bustling and very pretty, with houses hanging onto the steep hillsides. There was octopus adorning what seemed to be every available hanging space. We got food at a supermarket on the way back to Camping Mani Beach, just outside Githio.

Pete filled up with water while I went to look for a space but there were rows of 'sheds' (those bamboo shelters) and only two available spaces, so I went back to the van to find Pete who was looking distraught. He had been very polite and reversed out of the way of another van, only to hit an olive branch. It punctured the driver's side at the top on the back panel. Pete was really upset about it but, when all's said and done, it's a van and no-one was hurt. With apologies to reception, we left the site and went to the next one, Camping Githion Bay, where there were no sheds. Shade is provided by trees and it was much less formal. We found a lovely shaded spot with views and caught up on laundry, loo-emptying etc.

Tuesday 15th August   Greece   Githio, Camping Githion Bay

Pete cleaned the awning and rubbed out some of the olive scratches from Xarokopio. He rang the insurance company about the van damage. I loaded photos onto the laptop after bacon, egg and tomato (how English!) The tomatoes here are so delicious I'll never eat a bland supermarket one again. It's Ascension of Mary day today and a bank holiday, so there was no fresh bread but yesterday's toasted beautifully and it's only 60 lepta (€0.60) a loaf. We went to the huge beach for a swim and had to call in at the beach bar, as they were playing an entire Wishbone Ash album (shows our age!) We ate in the camp Taverna: pork chops which were good but frozen chips, which aren't.

Wednesday 16th August   Greece   Githio, Camping Githion Bay

We heard today that Pete's brother Robin and wife Jill had reached Budapest by bike and that they were now on a train to Vienna. We went to check out the neighbouring campsites, Mani Beach and Meltemi. I took photos of both but we think we're in the best one for us. We had a beer in a beach Taverna with parking possibilities but the drinks were quite expensive for a beach bar. The Meltemi site was quite regimented with 'sheds' and a pool, though one nice feature was all the olive trees had labels on showing their type and a bit of information. We had an ouzo and mezze at the Mediterranean beach bar: also with a pool and at €3 very cheap!

It got quite windy so the brolly wouldn't stay up on the beach. We used a white bedcover attached to the awning to give the fridge some shade as it's very hot outside. When the sun moves round, it shines on the fridge, which is already working overtime to keep things cold. We weren't impressed with the German-marching-band-type music from next door's van, especially as the owner was asleep. There are some spaces at the very front, next to the beach but unshaded, which might be nice another time. We ate local sausage, which was very spicy, with a tin of beans that were lurking in the van. The tinned processed food had an immediate and not very pleasant effect, so we've vowed to cut out processed food as much as we can.

Thursday 17th August   Greece   Selenitsa Taverna, Githion Bay

My birthday! And what a surprise present! I was sitting drinking my coffee when Pete whispered 'Look' and there, over the fence, were a pair of fox cubs and two adults lying in the sun and playing about. One adult came under the fence to the next van as we watched. We watched them for about ten minutes before they headed off into the bushes. I read my cards and text messages, then got ready to leave. The lady campsite owner was lovely, especially when I told her about the foxes. She said we were lucky to see them. We drove into Githio and parked just past the football stadium and had a good nose round the shops. Pete bought a hammock - he's wanted one for ages but he got a double one. I don't know if we'll ever find two trees to take our combined weight!

We had an amazing pizza overlooking the sea, sitting on a comfy settee (something I miss a little). I had a yogurt and apricot drink, which was different and a treat as it was real apricots. We drove along the bay to the Selenitsa Taverna and parked amongst 12 vans. We had a swim, then had champagne and orange juice and a meal in the Taverna. Two guys set up to play bouzouki and guitar but they had a very limited audience as there was hardly anyone there. They were very good so we bought them a drink. The food was good too.

Friday 18th August   Greece   Selenitsa Taverna, Githion Bay

It was very hot in the night. We drove into Githio to go to the market and then down the coast to Skala, where there's a shipwreck. We didn't stay there though, as the beach was a bit scruffy. We went back to Selenitsa for a swim and a snooze. Pete got his bin liner out and did his job of tidying up the car park and beach. We watched the Kythira/Crete boat come and go and maybe another time we'll get on it.

We walked into Githio for a night out. We watched where people went to eat and ended up on the seafront at Barba Sideris for pork, which you buy by the kilo. It came on a huge cardboard platter with chips, toasted oiled bread and tzatsiki which, with wine, came to €17. It was wonderful! The pork melted in your mouth and we could easily see why this was a popular spot. McDonald's would have no chance here with such wonderful 'fast food' available. A torch would have been a good idea for the walk back, as my night vision is not good.

Saturday 19th August   Greece   Mystras, Camping Castle View (€23.00)

The sea was absolutely flat calm so we had a swim before setting off to Sparta and Mystras. It was a lovely drive to Camping Castle View, where a lovely New Yorker and her husband run a clean and sparkling site with grass. There are flowers, a shop, cafι, swimming pool and view of Mystras. We had a swim in the good pool and did some washing. It felt good to be in shaded greenery rather than near a dusty beach. We had a sit about, then an early evening stroll up into Mystras village, where Pete picked figs from a tree and we looked at the view across the valley to Sparta. Mystras was in the shadow of the mountain so it was a very pleasant cool walk. We sat in the village square, had an ouzo and a beer and lovely mountain water. The campsite owner told us about how good the water was and she was right. We had another swim and a shower, then walked back up to the village to eat.

Sunday 20th August   Greece   Marathopoli, Camping Proti

We got up early and joined the camper vans already in the Fortress Gate car park at Mystras. We could have stayed there overnight, had we not needed to empty the loo, etc. We took hats and lots of water, planning to walk round only the upper areas as we would have needed all day to do the whole site. It was amazing and the views were breathtaking. It was a steep climb up steps to the top but mostly in shade. There's too much to describe, with houses, churches, streets and not many tourists. We had a fabulous visit there and will return to do it justice.

We had a shower in the van, as we got very hot, then we headed off to Marathopoli via the Langhada Pass to Kalamata. What a scenic route! We didn't realise that there were overhanging rocks with a 3.8 metre clearance and, at 3.05 metres high, there wasn't a lot of room for error. It was so spectacular though, through forests and ravines: a climbing area. People were gathered in the few roadside Tavernas in deep shade for Sunday lunch, while children played in the water from springs pouring from the mountainsides. We drank lots of water on the drive as it was the hottest day in Greece this year.

We got to the site of camping Proti in Marathopoli where, although it wasn't the dreaded 'sheds', the plots were quite small. It's a small site but with a huge deep swimming pool and bar, next to the sea and beautifully kept. There is a little wooden jetty off a flat area of rock with a swimming pool ladder, so you can get into the sea easily. It wasn't very deep but it had interesting rock formations underwater and we saw a black and yellow crab that looked like a spider and the biggest octopus I've ever seen. It was huge! It crouched in a crack in the rocks till finally it went under a rock and pulled a shell on itself, changing colour to look like a sea urchin.

We sat on the rocks for a while, then went for a shower but it was so hot that we soon got all wet again. The fridge was struggling too, so we put it on gas which seemed to help. Later we walked along the sea path to Marathopoli, had an ouzo at a waterfront bar, then watched again where people were heading to eat, ending up in Ostria (a pizza place) for chef's salad and pizza. It was very quiet at the camp round the beautifully lit pool and I had a wonderfully deep sleep. (Route: Mystras, Langhada Pass, Kalamata, Messinia, Pylos Road, Hora, Gargaliani, then sharp left to Marathopoli.)

Monday 21st August   Greece   Kyparissia, Camping Kyparissia

After a good sleep, the site was beginning to grow on us. An English woman who lives in Salzburg came over to speak to us as we were getting ready to leave. We packed up then went for a swim in the sea, only to find that a ship had discharged oil and waste and it had floated in. We went to the pool and were glad we did: it's super huge, deep, lovely and with lots of sun beds and a good pool bar with shade. If only the plots had been a bit bigger.

We drove south a little way, then up to Hora and Nestor's Palace, a Mycenaean palace being excavated under a shady roof. It was absolutely amazing! There's even the Queen's bath almost intact. We had a look around, then looked at a Tholos tomb, beehive-shaped and very tall. Next to it there were grapes spread out in the sun to dry. We wondered how they didn't rot and why they weren't covered in bees and wasps.

Pete drove on to Kyparissia, back to the campsite we'd already stayed on, and we got a lovely spot under an olive and a tamarisk tree, with grass and sea view. The camp site manager remembered us and gave us a 10% discount. We got ice lollies and sat under the shady trees, bought bread, then went back to the van for fruit and salad.

We felt very relaxed and comfortable knowing where everything was and I washed clothes and tidied up, which I hadn't felt like doing for days. It was too hot even to go to swim and we copied Greeks, going to the beach late with me wearing my sunhat to swim in, like the old ladies do. The sunset wasn't very good but sitting in the cooler air was a good time to catch up with journal writing.

We walked along to a restaurant on the front where we had pilakia - a plate of mixed stuff (fish, kalamari, chips, hot cheese and salad). Pete had koto - spaghetti and chicken, an interesting combination.

Tuesday 22nd August   Greece   Kyparissia

We walked into town, having a nose round the railway station on the way. We'd taken a bottle of water as we'd intended to go up to the castle but it took a lot of persuasion from Pete to get me climbing up a hill in the heat. We couldn't see a direct route, so we went up little alleyways and found a few dead ends. Some of the alleys were shaded but it was very hot. Some of the older houses have upstairs balconies overhanging the narrow steep streets and there were some expensively restored houses. Pete went into a ruined house that was being restored and found some huge old pots. The last bit up to the castle was a wider street, with steps at one side under overhanging balconies.

We weren't happy to find the castle closed but a closer inspection revealed how crumbling it is. We took photos and headed back down, stopping to splash ourselves with cold water at the several springs by the roadside. There was water running down channels by the road even in the height of summer, so that explained why it's so green here. We were soaked with sweat by the time we got back down but we came out at the air-conditioned paradise that is the Atlantic supermarket, so we dived in. We got a text from Neil in England asking if we were okay and about fires, so we stopped for a coffee and a beer in the square and bought an International Guardian and saw a local paper which had pictures about terrible fires, probably caused by arson in Kassandra, Northern Greece.

We went back to the van then to the next beach along for a swim but the water was very stirred up and weedy, so not so pleasant. We couldn't settle on the beach and came back to the van to read. Pete cooked chops for tea, then we had an early night after looking at options for the return journey to Patras.

Wednesday 23rd August   Greece   Amaliada, Camping Palouka

The sea was very stirred up again with lots of seaweed and no-one was swimming. Pete hoovered the bits of tamarisk tree out of the van, as they got everywhere. At about 1 pm we thought about going into town for coffee, then changed our minds and decided to move on up the coast a bit to try another campsite and to find out what 'one of the best campsites in Greece' (sic) looked like (Caravan Club report). We stopped at a bank in Zacharo, then went on the North road round Kaiafa Lake and thermal spings.

We overshot the parking spot, so went back round to Zacharo and found a pull-in on the south side of the lake. There was a table and chairs under a tree so we had something to eat there in the company of a very friendly little dog, who seemed to like the taste of Pete's toes. Pete saw a turtle; we both saw fish, kingfishers and blue dragonflies. Just as we pulled away, the Fire Service van pulled up at the same spot and the firemen got out to have their lunch. We stopped at Champion in Pirgos to stock up and got sticky cakes. Pete wanted fish but I wanted to eat out so we didn't - big mistake on my part!

We found Palouka campsite easily, as it is well sign-posted from the main road and the very friendly young guy gave us a guided tour of the pristine facilities, though it was interesting to find that the chemical loo dump is inside the gents. He took us to a choice of three shady spots. The large hedged space we ended up in was next to a bank down to a stream with ducks in, bordered by tall eucalyptus trees and azalea bushes. It's a minute's walk to the sea and sandy beach and another couple of minutes to the small harbour and a couple of Tavernas. We went for a swim in the shallow waves rolling over the sand, with lots of children having good fun on rubber rings.

We set off for a cycle ride to Amaliada because Pete had decided he really wanted fish (why didn't I let him get some in the supermarket?) We went past the next campsite ('Paradise') down a lane with a few houses, then back onto the main road. We took a left and found a newly made road with posh lighting and a cycle path - were we still in Greece? We came to a very busy junction and couldn't work out why so many cars were coming out from here, so we crossed over to find out where they were coming from instead of heading for Amaliada.

We weren't sure where we were going but we got the answer when the road came to a dead end and we had to turn left down to the sea. What a surprise when we got there. There were tons of cars parked, loads of cafes and a crowded beach. There were Senegalese guys selling CD's, kids riding bikes, people strolling round … We parked the bikes and sat in a cafι to take it all in. Pete asked for a beer and the waiter asked us if we wanted it 'sketo' or 'mezze'. As we'd never heard of a beer mezze, we had that. Wow! Beer, and Fanta for me, came with loads to pick at - fried cheese, grilled aubergines, chips, tiropitakia - and all for €6. A Senegalese guy came over and chatted, though we resisted buying any of his huge wooden horses, bows and arrows or hookahs. He fell about laughing when Pete gestured to the bikes; he thought we'd ridden them from England!

We cycled along the beach road, found more people, more bars and people waiting for a bus to Amaliada and realised we'd come to the Greek equivalent of Blackpool - Kourouta. Fascinating and different. We cycled back along the 'posh' road and Pete showed off like a little kid, showing me how he could get both legs on the same side of the bike as he was going along. Being in a daft mood, I videoed it but didn't try myself, I'm so useless on a cycle and no cartilages in my knees means it's sometimes painful to do. Still, if that's all that's wrong with me, I'm grateful.

We were still full of mezze so didn't bother cooking later. It was very quiet and cooler here at 28 degrees and the showers were great.

Thursday 24th August   Greece   Amaliada, Camping Palouka

Pete got antxious (not misspelt - just made up) as there are lots of ants here and he wages a personal war against them. I did some washing in the immaculate facilities, then we had breakfast watching the antics (?) of a German couple who accidentally dropped their waste water container into the stream. The elder of the two campsite guys walked upstream to retrieve it for them. Antics seemed to be the order of the day – we watched a man trying to windsurf and another trying to kite-surf and they both almost got blown away. The breeze was lovely and kept it from being too hot as we lazed on a sun bed and chair under our brolly on the beach. The sea here is shallow for a long way out. Pete went back to the van and brought a picnic. He had actually gone for the camera and the lilo but never mind …

When we got back to the van, we'd been invaded! Ants were on the march. They were dropping off a eucalyptus leaf touching the van, presumably after the sticky stuff that tamarisks leave, and were trying to come back to England with us. We went to the campsite Taverna ('excellent' in the Caravan Club book but actually less than mediocre - no oven-cooked food, only grills, and my burger was a frozen tasteless thing). The staff were very pleasant and chatty and the wine was good. Pete and I discussed defining moments in our lives and the highlights of the trip.

Friday 25th August   Greece   Amaliada, Camping Palouka

We went for a bike ride, slightly uphill to Amaliada. There are big aqueducts by the side of the road about a metre from the ground carrying a torrent of clear cold water. We came to a village, Kerana, where the road was all dug up. We stopped for a coffee and a frappe in an old guys' Kafenion (I got the feeling that I definitely shouldn't have been there, even though I sat very discreetly in a corner). There was a little black kitten causing hilarity as the owner tried to catch it and at least that made the old guys smile at us when Pete helped out. It was such a dirty little place with scruffy plastic chairs and old tables but Pete loved it. We got a hot loaf from the bakery and decided to plough on to Amaliada, still wishing I'd let Pete buy fish at the supermarket. Amaliada was busy when we got there. We left our bikes in the square and wandered off in search of fish. Pete nearly got run over when a lady pulled out of an opening without looking - she didn't see him at all. He did a huge sideways leap, much to the amusement of passers by and to the horror of the lady. She was very sorry and there was much head shaking and interest from all around us.

We found Pete's Holy Grail across the road: a shop selling fish, veg and fruit. We got two lovely sea bream for €4. We had a beer in the square and watched all the activity, then Pete went into his other favourite type of shop, an ironmongers, for two cleats for the unhung and unswung hammock. He was in there for what seemed like hours. When he came back he was beaming - he'd been chatting to the lady in there and has been invited back for coffee next year. The cycle ride back was great, downhill with a lovely breeze.

We pottered round the van with the free ant spray from Reception, then went for a last loll about on a lilo, last laze on a beach … the reality of going home is creeping up on us and I don't like it. Pete barbecued the fish beautifully and I picked some basil from our plant and chopped it up in the some of the oil given to us in Stoupa as a sauce. We had fresh green beans and potatoes with a lovely salad and a bottle of Nestor's wine made near Nestor's Palace. A wonderful tasty candlelit meal led us to more reflections about the holiday and thoughts about the future: how we'd not been bored in each other's company, how we'd not minded being the only English people around, how we'd always found something to talk about, finding something good or funny even in tricky situations (though they had been few and far between), how we'd loved meeting people and how we really want to do more of the same … and how much we envy Margaret and Barry Williamson (www.magbaztravels.com) who do this all the time! Roll on Pete's retirement.

Saturday 26th August   Greece   Derveni, Sea Front Bus Station

The drive to Patras was much busier than coming here, especially after the Kyllini junction where the Zakinthos ferry traffic joined the road. There were lots of stalls selling huge pumpkins and water melons all along the road. The New National Road bypasses Patras and we were soon in sight of the fantastic bridge across the Gulf of Corinth. We missed an obvious (later!) sign to the Diakofto railway and sort of messed up getting through Diakofto, seeing the tracks but not the station. We should have read the book properly! It is right in the centre and parking is very limited. We were surprised and disappointed not to be able to get a ticket for the rack and pinion railway that day to Kalavrita, as it was full. We booked tickets for the next day, had a look at the old engines and went off to look for Camping Eleon but couldn't find it.

We took a road down to Rodia, parked on a bend by the sea and walked round the bay. We thought we might have been able to camp there but even Pete couldn't ignore the No Camping signs everywhere. We moved on to Camping Akrata - easy to find but very small with tiny pitches. There was only one vacant pitch and it was too small to get into. The owner/manager was having coffee with the local police and didn't seem bothered about us being there, but it was impossible to get in and, even if we had been able to park, it wouldn't have been worth paying site fees to be so close to the next van that your door wouldn't open.

We moved on along the road towards Athens, where the railway runs next to the sea, and saw waves crashing over the sea wall. We wished we had time to drive to Athens and see our friends there. We went into a village with a bus station and car park next to the sea, parked up and watched the enormous waves crashing onto the sea wall. Five other camper vans came to stay in what really is the bus station. We went for a stroll through the little town of Derveni, where I read the sign on the school to see where we are. It's not a tourist place and the narrow beach is behind the main street. We ate in a fish restaurant - no menu, which is always a challenge - but we had salad and kolokeftedes (courgette croquettes made with feta, eggs and dill). They were delicious. Pete had horta (not a favourite of mine) and fried fish pieces. We sat on a balcony overlooking the fierce sea. We had an early night after first checking for any more ant stowaways.

Sunday 27th August   Greece   Patras, Camped on the beach

Blooming ants carried out night manoeuvres over me. I killed 10 and the rest descended upon the empty tonic tin with a vengeance. Pete discovered two small splits in the tyres (just like last year). We drove back to Diakofto and parked in the main street and put the fridge on gas while we walked down to the sea for coffee, a swim and a shower outside the little church. We put the swimming stuff back in the van, then went to the station and the xaharoplastio (cake shop) opposite to wait for the train. The Athens–Patras train came in and it was funny to see people hop off, buy water and ice cream, then hop back on.

Our little train, two carriages with a diesel engine between, came in and we set off up a narrow gauge track across a level crossing with no barriers and into the fantastic Vouraikos Gorge up to Kalavrita. There's a ski resort at the top. It's the place where the Greek flag of independence was first raised and where Germans assassinated every male over 15. The clock on the church in the square is stopped at the time the killings took place. We had such mixed feelings, being in a beautiful place in the sunshine while contemplating man's inhumanity to man.

There are lots of little shops there and it's worth a visit. We ate at 'Stanis'. Pete had goat in lemon sauce and I had souvlaki washed down with lovely local rose. The journey back down was as awe-inspiring as the upward journey, with the train wending its way over the river and narrow bridges, under overhanging rocks, through tunnels with the ever-changing light casting shadows from the mountains and changing the colour in the water rushing below us. Some Greek children were getting very excited about it all until it seemed that their eyes couldn't possibly get any wider.

The driver stopped on the same bridge for a cigarette as he had on the way up!

When we got off the train, Pete drove very carefully back to Patras looking for tyre places on the way. We drove along from the port after checking where we needed to go the next day, towards Corinth and the wonderful bridge to a beach area where there were loads of people and a couple of camper vans parked up. We walked along the beach looking at the mountains and at the glorious sunset. It seemed like most of Patras had come to the beach to swim, fish, barbecue and meet their friends. I couldn't resist a last Greek swim, even though the sun had gone down. The clear water had a pebble seabed and the water felt like cool silk.

People parked near to us and there was a bit of noise from the Kantina but it was free. The views of the bridge lit up in the night were stunning. We had showers in the van but it got a bit humid later.

Monday 28th August   Italy   ANEK Ferry to Ancona

People were on the beach watching the sunrise at 7 am and the colours on the mountains were magical. Pete filled up the water from the beach shower with a watering can. We turned back towards the harbour and then went towards Athens looking for a tyre place and found one almost immediately. €550.00 and an hour later we had a full set of new tyres and a coffee each. We were lucky. Pete drove around looking for a supermarket to stock up with yet more ouzo and metaxa brandy. (One thing that had irritated me beyond belief was that Pete kept the fridge stocked full of beer and every time I opened it, stuff fell out - no room for food, just beer! Next purchase - another fridge!)

We bought cheese pies and pizza from a lovely little bakery and went back almost to where we'd parked before. It was a cool, breezy place to watch the ferries coming in. Pete went for a swim and a shower while I read.

We went back to the port nearer to ferry time and there were lots of young, mainly Asian, men hanging about clutching carrier bags.

The process of checking in wasn't very obvious, particularly as it said Passenger Ferry Terminal and we were looking for a motorhome or lorry sign, but I went in and it said the desk wouldn't be open till 3 o'clock. It was half past one. I stayed in the van while Pete went into the terminal building two minutes later and it was open. We were told to drive to Gate 7, where the policeman who was directing traffic off a ferry stopped it and waved us across the line of traffic … hmmm.

A police van came round by Gate 7, sounded a siren and at least four men came running out from where the lorries were parked. They must have been desperate. We set sail (?) on time–ish, thanks to the amazing men who do a live jigsaw puzzle with cars, vans and lorries, saying 'left right' in many languages to get you exactly where they want in improbable places. We got a sort of sea view and it was very windy on deck as we watched Patras fade into the distance and the mountains of the west coast pass by. We felt very sad that the Greek adventure was over but there's so much more of the Peloponnese to see and much more of Greece to explore later.

The smell of gyros was tempting but we went below and read papers and books, had a good hot shower, then went to the self-service restaurant for a passable meal at €26. At Igoumenitsa watching the guy park oncoming vehicles (could they get any more on?) passed an interesting half hour, with cars being squeezed into the smallest of spots. We weren't hemmed in by tall vehicles so could still see the sea.

Pete went on ant patrol and caught 116 would-be refugees.

Tuesday 29th August    Switzerland,    Coldrerio Services

We had a wonderful night's sleep, gently rocked, with no early morning announcements. It's interesting to watch what other people do - camp in cars, take their dogs out etc - though how they managed this morning is a puzzle, as after the Igoumenitsa boarding there's hardly room to squeeze between cars. Before Igoumenitsa, people had chairs and tables out on deck having a meal and there was a game of football going on.

I uploaded photos and Pete did soft boiled eggs and soldiers and used the last of the Marmite (bigger jar next time). It was cloudy and it took an hour to get off the boat, then three quarters of an hour to get to the toll booth and the motorway. There was an accident at Fano so there were traffic queues to Rimini. There were traffic queues at Bologna, which look usual, and hold-ups all the way. Pete was determined to get as far as we could though. After 290 miles we stopped at Coldrerio services, over the Swiss border, with good parking and water from a drinking tap.

Wednesday 30th August    France   Aire du Rumacourt

We needed the quilt on in the night. We set off at 9.15 am and the clouds started around Lake Lugano. Then we had rain. We had a scenic drive across Switzerland but needed the heater on. It took 3.25 hours and 173 miles to get across Switzerland and into France. We stopped just outside of Colmar and the tunnel (not on our map) was shut so we went par col - over the top. We stopped for coffee next to a vineyard and I had trouble stopping Pete getting a bunch of grapes off the vine. The road was lovely, really scenic with vines everywhere. I listed places that looked good to stop over another time. Pete wanted to stop at an Aire around Charleville Meziers but as we hadn't seen one, I suggested a campsite at Montmedy, where a castle crowns the hill. Pete drove on.

I suggested sites at Douzy and Hirson but Pete was convinced we'd find an Aire and drove on. We tried to find the road to the A26 to Calais, in the hope of finding an Aire, though I was fed up of sitting and just wanted to stop. A road closure meant a diversion and it took us ages to find the road. When we eventually got on a toll road it wasn't long till we found an Aire at Rumacourt. I made omelettes but it felt too late to eat, as it was 10 pm. I never want to do such a long drive again - nothing more than 5 hours in a day. I made Pete promise never to do that again; we could have been walking round a lovely little French town and staying on a site …

Here's the contract he had to sign!

'I promise not to do unnecessarily long drives again and to listen to Maggie.' Will it work? I think not.

Thursday 31st August    Home    (a day early)

Rumacourt was a good Aire to stop in. It was quiet and you could hardly hear any road noise. We had a bacon sandwich and set off at 9.45 am for Calais. We did the usual Auchan shopping for wine and beer.

We went down to get the ferry but this time it cost us an extra £50 to go on the 4 pm boat, though the nice lady did try to sort something out - originally she had said it was going to be £80. We could have gone the following day on the 4 pm sailing but we thought we'd like to go home - we'd only paid £85 for the return crossing anyway. The boat was a bit late and it took nearly an hour to get through the Dartford Tunnel. It was grey but dry in England, then the sun came out and we got Radio 5 …

Verdict:

This was without a doubt our best holiday ever and we'll be back to the Peloponnese for more exploring next year.