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A Journey to Greece (Brenda Wilson) PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

An Account of our Trials and Tribulations on a 3 week journey from the UK to the Greek Peloponnese

Brenda and Adrian Wilson
April 2010

Luck was not on the side of the Wilsons on their overland journey to Greece in the motorhome they had bought in the USA and imported into the UK - see their excellent account in this website and 143 photographs of their journey from the Atlantic to the Pacific and back.

But they got to Greece! This frank acocunt of the journey shows perhaps the worst that could happen on this Balkan route which still challenges the very best of the motorhoming world - read other stories on this website.

Brenda writes: Well, we had a nightmare journey down which took us 2 weeks of constant driving (well not me, I was busy nodding) but we will never take that route again.

Firstly (nothing to do with the route), on our first day's travel from Dunkerque, we were on the motorway in Belgium when we had a front tyre blow out. I don't know if you have ever had one but they really make a very loud bang (frightened the life out of me) and all of the wheel arch flew off (luckily didn't hit anyone else). We managed to just about get most of the camper off the road but were wary of getting stuck in soft edges. Of course it just happened to be bitterly cold with rain and sleet and our bikes had to come off first to get to the spare wheel.

This was the driver's side, so working underneath etc was pretty hairy to say the least with lorries thundering past. We had to have the wet shredded tyre inside after completing the job, luckily managing to retrieve our wheel arch, but of course we were both soaked by this time. Adrian thinks it was the sun damage on the tyres when they were left standing in US for some time which makes the sides bulge and split, as the tyres themselves were very good ones! Anyway, not being able to speak the language made it difficult but after lots of ringing round we were told we wouldn't be able to get another of this specific tyre without ordering it from UK and of course paying to have it sent over to us, which may have taken days.

So reluctantly we decided to go back to Dover to try and sort something out - at least they would understand us anyway!! We went back and very nearly decided to go home again. However we found someone in Northampton who would send some out for us the next day (we thought we had best have 2 new ones and hang the spare one on the back)!

So we sorted things out and set off once more across to Dunkerque. After Belgium and a small bit in Holland and Germany, we came to Austria. It was extremely windy here and we couldn't help wondering why every time a coach load of people came in they all piled out, stood in a line and just took a pee - even one lady did the same although she did TRY to hide behind a bin!!! It was freezing cold and raining and there were plenty of toilets in the garage and restaurant. (Perhaps because the charge for WC at Austrian service stations is 0.50 ed.) Anyway, what an expensive country Austria is!! We paid for a vignette but when we got to a tunnel - Karawanski (Karawanken) or something we were told that we should have purchased a 'box' to go on the windscreen which cost us another 80, because we were over 3.5 tons and classed as an HGV. We didn't even have much further to go!!

Another vignette to get into Slovenia, where at least we did manage to go and see (briefly) Lake Bled. Into Croatia, where we thought we had better get some of their Kuna currency in case we needed it for any tolls, but managed to leave the country without having spent it! So 260 Kuna to change back again at some point! At least the motorway was heaven - new, nobody on it and smooth, but little did we know what was to come. We were worried it was going to cost a fortune as we were on it for 2 days and after Austria ... but pleasantly surprised it only cost 53. Briefly into Bosnia-Hercegovina without any problems and back into Croatia, where we had hoped to go and have a look around at Dubrovnik but there was nowhere open to stay, no maps of the town and nowhere for us where we could park, so we drove out again and had to be satisfied with a layby view some way away above the old town! 

Another vignette and also a green card was the requirement for entering Montenegro. Our maps weren't very good now and the road signs either non-existent or had no road numbers. So got a bit lost, on very narrow roads, even before we got to the Albanian border, where although we didn't have to pay for anything (Lek currency here) they certainly took their time letting us go through.. Our first taste of Albania was when we got to Shkoder and came across a very long bridge (with no passing places and no traffic lights) over a river which looked about to burst its banks with all the rain we had had. It was flowing very fast. Now I don't know if you have ever been over it but we were both convinced that it was not going to take our weight - it looked as if it was made of cardboard!!

We had young kids banging on our van and trying to get in the door, presumably to get money from us, and people hooting from behind. So we backed out to have a think, but it would seem there was no other way over! We waited to see if any lorries came but none did. I was panicking and truly terrified. We had to wait ages anyway because the traffic just kept coming, but eventually we ventured on - down to a big bump in the middle and off the other side!! I had never been so relieved in all my life and still don't know how we made it!!!

Albania has to be seen and experienced to be believed!!! We never thought the roads would be that bad - understatement. Huge holes, craters and broken concrete with open man-holes and everywhere awash with water so that you couldn't see what was road and what was a deep hole! Whole cities and towns were at gridlock. A complete free for all, with people driving the wrong way up roads everywhere and anywhere in order to avoid the holes and we all just came to a standstill. On some very busy crossroads there were no traffic lights!! Sometimes we had to negotiate the same road several times as the road signs were so awful or non-existent or people would send you in the wrong direction!!

Our poor camper. We thought several times that we would never get out of Albania. How they can live like that we will never know and the rubbish everywhere and half finished buildings and derelict ones too are another story. Their driving is VERY bad too. They overtake when not enough time or room to get back in again and cut you up constantly. Sometimes you were sure you were about to have a head on collision with people overtaking on the other side. The only stroke of luck we had was when we pulled into a gas station to ask if we could stop the night (as it had taken us so long to get anywhere) and it turned out that the owner knew all about Sheringham and Norwich, as he had worked there and often goes back. Now they welcomed us with open arms and couldn't do enough for us. They let us fill our water tanks with fresh water, which we were desperate for, and asked Adrian round for coffee and some sort of alcohol - may have been raki.

The next day, still in Albania, we came to the big town/city of Vlore which was probably even worse than we had already experienced. We came to a tunnel which I had thought wasn't going to be high enough for us. We started to go in (it was pitch black, no lights) and stopped. I think they were working on it and several people came out to see but in the end it looked very dubious so we backed out. We were unaware (as there were no signs) of a detour to avoid the tunnel. An Albanian (who of course did not speak English) offered to come inside and go with us to show us the way and believe me it was a good job he did, because we would never have taken our camper where he showed us.

A dirt track full of holes with rocks and hills on hairpin bends with only just room for US most of the time, never mind passing anyone!! It was quite a long way and we were beginning to wonder just where he was taking us but we managed to survive once again. We breathed a sigh of relief and wondered what else might be around the corner.

The next set of problems were the mountains with hairpin bends and tiny, narrow villages again. The worse one was just past Dukat, where we were up in the clouds. We hadn't realised quite how steep it was or that on coming down our brakes were overheating and in the end the two front brakes seized up completely. We were in the middle of nowhere and were really worried how we were going to fix this one!! So we crawled along on our hazard lights, trying to find somewhere we could pull off the road. We limped onto some waste ground and realised just how hot our tyres had become when Adrian chucked bucket after bucket of our waste water over the tyres to help cool them. They were really steaming!!

So we made a cup of tea (as you do) and waited around for some time, with an Albanian farmer trying to sympathize with our plight (in Albanian of course) and much to our surprise found that our brakes were now ok to carry on, as they had freed themselves, thank god! Phew!! However I was still very concerned because we knew that we still had loads of hills to climb, so we went pretty slowly down the hills in first gear because you are unable to help yourself by also using the handbrake if necessary as it's a weird set up where the handbrake is operated by the foot.

Anyway EVENTUALLY we got to Saranda and to the border with Greece at Kavaki. We got through OK (quite late by then) but they nearly always seem to find something for us to pay for. At first he asked for 30 but on asking what it was for changed it to 5!!  but at least they said we could stay there overnight! And Adrian even managed to wash the camper down a bit in the morning, as there was a little stream beside us. As you can imagine it was in a very sorry state!

As you told us there is very little LPG in Greece, but we were shocked to find that the petrol was even MORE expensive than at home!! So guess we'll have to stay in one place a bit longer than we usually do and not tour around so much! Our first stop overnight in Greece was at the Rio-Antirio bridge. It looks lovely at night, all lit up in yellow and blue. We took the ferry across (in morning) as it's so much cheaper than the bridge, and made our way down the west coast and on to Glyfa, Ionion Beach Camping. We hadn't actually been there before.

The weather has not been kind to us at all, so far anyway, but we did manage to cycle to Vartholomio one day and also to Kastro to see the castle the next day. That last hill up to the castle was hard going!!! When we left there we went down to Pylos, which we liked despite the rain. Hadn't been here before either. We stayed at the marina. On our way out of Pylos the next day we stopped at a small garage to fill up but then found we couldn't start the motor again. We were on a hill and Adrian had taken the handbrake off before taking it out of the parking gear and it just locked up. We couldn't roll backwards or get it out of gear. Nothing! So once again we didn't know how we were going to get out of this one and the garage owner didn't really understand what we were trying to tell him.

Adrian thought that if someone could pull us forward just a very small amount (bearing in mind we are over 7 ton and on a hill), it would hopefully free up the gear lever. Adrian tried for some time to explain this to the bloke as best he could but without much luck, then all of a sudden it must have sunk in and off he went to get his motor out, which happened to be a good size. So on goes the tow rope and luckily after several goes it moved forward a little, came out of gear and we could then start it!! I must say we find the people of Greece to be very helpful and obliging. He certainly was.