GREECE  RE-VISITED 2006 - Week 1

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WEEK 1 NEWS - across Europe to Venice, and the Adriatic ferry to Greece:

It's 1000 miles from Calais to Venice to catch the ferry to Greece. 3 days of travel south-eastwards produced surrealistic climatic extremes: we left UK in chillingly bleak and cheerless grey murk, camped in freezing snow drifts in Southern Germany, were sunburnt in bright Spring sunshine in Venice, before finally boarding the ferry from Venice to Greece in pouring rain.
               
This year's Channel crossing was courtesy of Sea France's 70 bargain return fare, to set off on our tried and tested route across the Continent, passing through Belgium, Germany, Austria, and over the Brenner Pass into North Italy. Day 1 brought us to Camping Vogelsang ('Birdsong'), just 15 minutes from the A61 autobahn near Koblenz at the village of Brodenbach in the delightful Mosel valley. Another attraction, after the 320 mile drive from Calais, is the village's bar, where the haus-frau welcomed us again with large goblets of the local fruity dry white Mosel wine. The Riesling vines, pruned hard-back at this time of year, are terraced up the steep valley-sides, and in the bright morning sunshine, the river-side villages looked heavenly, bedecked with snow-drops.

The 380 miles stage 2 of the journey brought us past Munich to the Tyrol village of Bad Feilnbach and another of our regular stopping points at Camp Tenda, almost snow-bound at this time of year with sub-zero overnight temperatures. The deep snow-drifts around our camp (Photo 1) provided a convenient means of chilling our evening wine. The 300 mile final stage to Venice took us over the Brenner Pass, engineered over spectacular snow-covered Alpine mountains, and down into the sunny vine-clad valleys of Northern Italy past Bolzano and Verona.

Our reward for 3 days' sustained driving was a rest day in Venice, before catching the ferry for Greece. Our preferred, and much recommended Venice campsite Miramare (www.camping-miramare.it)  does not open  until April, so misguidedly we chose to stay at Camping Fusina near to the grubby sprawl of Mestre on the mainland. Despite Fusina's setting in a wasteland of industrial dereliction, and the overwhelming presence of the neighbouring oil refinery, the campsite did overlook the Lagoon with the lights of Venice twinkling along the misty horizon. The ultimate negative however was the price: Italian campsites are notoriously expensive but 29.50 per night was just silly. Having said that, there was a convenient vaporetto across the Lagoon to Venice. And the Gods smiled on us with a wonderfully warm and bright sunny Spring day, perfect light for Venice's photographic potential. It was one of those magically memorable days in Venice: we sat drinking crisp dry white Veneto wine by Vivaldi's church at the Riva degli Schiavoni, waded through pigeons and Japanese tourists in Piazza san Marco, wandered aimlessly through back alleyways photographing gondolas on the narrow side-canals, and marvelled at the Rialto Bridge and Grand Canal sparkling in the afternoon Spring sunshine (Photo 2). And as the sun set, we shivered our way back across the Lagoon by vaporetto to Fusina.

This year, we chose to cross the Adriatic to Greece from Venice by Minoan Lines. The Camping-on-deck option in your own vehicle is not available until April, so with a cabin it's far from being a cheap crossing - ferry options, timetables and bookings recommended through MTC and Viamare (see Links Page). The weather did an about-face for our day of departure, with lowering grey skies and pouring rain. Despite this disappointment, the driving rain and mist made the views from the deck as we departed Venice even more mystical (Photo 3). So began the 30 hour tedium of the Adriatic ferry crossing, relieved only by a bottle of Ouzo from the ferry shop. The following day, the ferry called in at Corfu and at the Northern Greek port of Igoumenitsa, where more lorries than you'd think could be shoe-horned into a ship's hold emerged to continue their journeys to Eastern Europe. The ferry continued down the wine-dark Ionian Sea, past Leucas, Odysseus' island of Ithaca and Kephalonia (of Captain Corelli fame), swinging finally into the port of Patras on the NW Peloponnesian coast. During the afternoon, the sun was just about warm enough to be out on deck, watching the coastline of Greece passing by (Photo 4). We were ashore by 8-00 pm, battling through the anarchic Patras evening traffic, to find our first campsite in Greece just along the Gulf of Corinth at Rion. We were warmly welcomed to this delightful family-run small campsite for our first night in Greece.
                  
We have a challenging and ambitious programme ahead of us for our travels in Greece, planning to spend until Easter in the Peloponnese, the most beautiful time of the year as the days lengthen, the sun gains warmth  and campsites are still empty. We shall then cross the new Rion Bridge northwards to Delphi and Euboia, up through Thessaly to explore the northern provinces of Thrace, Macedonia and finally Epiros. It is so good, after a busy winter to be settling back into our straightforward and peripatetic life-style in George, our VW Camper. The price we pay is being distant from our dear family, and especially our now almost 1 year old granddaughter Isobel; thankfully we can keep in touch by mobile phone and email. Across the continent, Sheila's German and my Italian again achieved, if not fluency, adequate communication. Now it's the turn of Greek; who dares claim that a Classical education does not have its merits!                 

                       
Our travelling web site continues to grow, now entering its 3rd year of development. Over the winter, we have extended the Links Page, incorporating links to web sites of travel-related organisations which from our own personal experience, we are pleased to recommend. Most have paid us the compliment of placing a reciprocal link to our site, for which we extend our thanks. During our Greek trip, we shall continue our practice of updating the web site weekly or so with news reports and photos. We hope you will enjoy sharing our venture, and do email us with your views.

Sheila and Paul                                                                                  Published: Saturday 25 March

Music this week:
Kokkino-garyfallo (Red Carnation)