Iggy the Hymer is sitting a few feet from the sea in the small Peloponnese port town of Kyllini. ( N37.9371 E21.1457 ). In true Iggy style he has his bum a scant few feet from the beautiful Ionian Sea, and is happily watching the constant coming and going of the ferries to Zakynthos and Kefalonia.
Anyone who has read Captain Corelli’s Mandolin will be familiar with Kefalonia, the scene of the book – and the movie of course. And watching the ferries ply to and fro it is tempting to go and visit. My memories of the story seem all the more poignant from our recent time in Italy. I never thought to check the geography when I read the story, but these places are so close. Much of the Southern Italy we have just travelled from was itself, once part of Ancient Greece.
Man made boundaries flow like the tides it seems. Pulled by madmen rather than by the moon. And just like the heroes of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin the rest of humanity carries on. Tills the fields and casts the fishing nets. Births babies and tends to the sick. Laughs and smiles and breaks half their bread for the hungry man. Like war these simple human kindnesses have always been there and know no boundaries. Madmen may forbid love as much as they like, but it carries on regardless.
But I digress! Back to the present and the journey that we have just taken from Italy to Greece. I told you in my last post that we took the Anek Superfast ferry from Bari to Patras. It was getting to be an awfully long post though so I’ve saved the story of the sailing for here.
With our snap decision made to jump on a ferry to Greece I got Jay and Iggy onto the road for Bari and set about finding the address for the ferry port. Google Maps frustratingly turned up nothing, but I managed to find an address on the Superfast website. Hopefully this would be better marked than the route to our last ferry in Messina!
The road between Brindisi and Bari was in good condition (not always the case in Italy, but roads in Puglia were mainly pretty good) and we made good time all the way into the port road. A few people in the past have given me a pretty negative impression of Bari so I was hugely surprised by the impression we got as we drove in. It was an instantly impressive and attractive town and I was a bit gutted we weren’t going to be able to spend any time there. Another place name added to the “Defitintely go there next time” list. For this time though, distracting as the architecture was, I needed to watch out for ferry signs. There’s bound to be plenty in a major port like this. Right?
Wrong! Similarly to Messina if there were any “Ferry this way” signs in Bari we managed to miss every one of them. We did see an occasional sign for “Port”, but the screaming “Car Ferry!” “This Way”, “And Again!” signs we were used to were sadly lacking. The address given on the website loomed closer and suddenly a large double gateway appeared announcing itself to be the Port of Bari. The address was right, but it somehow didn’t look like the entrance to a ferry terminal to me. Still, we had to go somewhere so in we pulled, up to the security desk in the entrance.
With Iggy’s nose nudging hopefully at her security barrier, the Italian woman in the kiosk frantically waved her hands at us in a “What are you idiots doing??!!” kind of way and jumped out of her booth to speak to us. Hmmm. Not the right gate then? No. Apparently not. The right gate it seemed was 2 kilometres further on down the road. On the right. We smiled and thanked her as she watched us go with a “Flaming Tourists!” look on her face. I got the impression she would probably have been even more annoyed with us if we’d been Italian. Sometimes people have just been working with the public a bit too long. It can get to people after a few decades.
So off we went further along the harbour road. Still no port signs and we were just starting to think we were on a wild goose chase when Jay spotted the entrance. This was definitely it. Signs pointed out different lanes to take for different countries. Albania, Croatia, Montenegro…Greece! Off we went on the pathway to Greece. Back the way we’d just come, but inside the port area this time. A sign said 2 kilometres to the terminal building for departures to Greece. Hmmmm.
“It’s taking us right back to that woman at the security kiosk.” says Jay. Sure enough 2 kilometres later there she is, standing in her kiosk watching us, watching her, as we sail past her to the terminal building. Jay is shouting about “Jobsworth!” and I’m in hysterics. I point out that in the summer there’s probably a big queue of vehicles along here. Jay is unimpressed. We slip into a parking space in front of a cafe near the terminal. The hulk of what looks like a burnt out Superfast ferry looms un-reassuringly at a pier next to the terminal building. As we get out of Iggy to go check in the man at the cafe flashes us an enormous grin and shouts
Oh I am going to miss Italy!
Everything went fairly smoothly after that, and we were impressed with the speed with which we got underway. We’d read that ferries from Italy often run hours late, but the Superfast crew were on the ball today, despite the complicated loading system for these ferries. Theses aren’t roll on/ roll off boats, and there’s a lot of reversing and jigsaw puzzle antics to get all the vehicles in place. The crew really know what they’re doing though and after Iggy was safely backed into a corner at the back we watched, fascinated, as double trailer HGVs reversed up the ramp and into impossibly tight nooks and crannies. Massive respect to both the drivers and to the crew members guiding them in. Wow!
It was dark already when the ferry pulled away and the lights of Italy disappeared behind us. The cabin was comfy, the coffee exorbitant (good job we brought our kettle!) and the crew pleasant and friendly. All except for the woman in reception who we suspect may have been a relative of the woman in the Port security kiosk. If she was ever pleasant it was definitely a skill she reserved for her private life.
Being Scottish we’re not much for complaining, but I actually made a complaint against her as her attitude was so unbelievably bad. For the simple crime of asking politely for the 3 Euro unlimited movie pass sold on board ( really good value if you just want to bring your own beer and veg, cheaply, in your cabin all night) we got one of those looks. You know the ones. The slow, up and down icy glare. The wrinkling of the nose as if the starer had just stepped in dog poop. The eyes that continue to follow you after you leave. Glancing back from the door out of the room to find them still drilling holes into your back. Yeah. That look!
The nasty woman apart we enjoyed the voyage and slept like the dead on a flat calm sea. We weren’t due in to Patras until 13:00 Greek time so we stayed up late watching movies and had a long, long lie in the morning. So it was that it was ten a.m. before I got out of the shower and went eagerly out on deck to see what I could see. It was a grey morning, drizzly and cold and the clouds hung low over the sea. Over the sea and over the humps of islands, swimming like turtle backs all around us. It could not have been less like a travel agents picture of Greece if it had tried. But it was so, so much better. This was truly the land of mythology. Of sea monsters and Gods and heroes battling death on the treacherous seas. This was Greece!
Two and a half hours later we arrived, early, at a rain splattered, barely visible Patras, and were off the ferry and on the road to Aghios Panteleimon. The rain lashed down and we could barely see our surroundings, and yet… And yet all we could do was exclaim over how lovely everything was. Neither of us have been to Greece before, and here we were, getting our first impressions on a rainy day in January.
“You really know a place is beautiful if you like it this much in the pouring rain!” I grinned at Jay. He grinned back and agreed. We had a feeling the biggest problem we would have here would be leaving. If someone wants to fund us to stay on for a few months longer that would be just grand. Don’t be shy now! Come forward!!
The rain barely eased for the rest of the day as we sat and watched the fishermen come and go in Aghios Panteleimon. I caught up with the blog and we planned out a trip to Lidl the next day. Then we decided today was a good day to get out our Game of Thrones DVDs and start watching the series all over again. The local pack of dogs ran back and fro outside and the rigging of the boats chimed sweetly to the slow rock of the flat sea. Finally, yawning, we climbed into our cosy drop down bed and went to sleep happy, lulled by the gentle slap of waves against the pier.
The slap was a bit louder and a bit more angry when a violent rocking woke us abruptly at three in the morning. A gale had come up from nowhere while we slept and the quiet waters of the small harbour were now exploding over the pier, and over Iggy, in sheets of spray. This was no good we were going to have to move.
Rubbing our sleepy eyes we quickly fumbled our way into our clothes, popped the bed up and drove Iggy to the furthest end of the harbour away from the sea. We were still getting the full force of the wind but there was no sheltered parking spot for miles that I could find on the map. All around us were open fields with straight, narrow piste roads. We were just going to have to ride it out.
After a while our tired bodies got used to the rocking of the van and we slept incredibly well. The forecast had said the winds would decrease the next day, but excursions outside for photos had me struggling to stay in one spot long enough to take a shot. As the day wore on the wind pushed me harder, and we decided to stay put and leave Lidl for another day. The fishermen tended to on shore jobs and Game of Thrones announced that “Winter Is Coming!” No arguments there!
Next morning the sun was shining and we could see the surrounding islands clearly for the first time. Excited to be off we were packing up for the half hour drive down the coast to Kyllini when another motorhome pulled round the corner into the harbour. Eagerly we looked to the registration plate for country of origin. It seems to be common to most motorhomers this looking to see where a van is from. This morning’s arrival had a letter “E” inside the EU circle of stars. Spain! I can speak a little Spanish! Result! Communication is possible!
A quick ” Hola! Beunos Dias!” later and it turns out the new guys, while indeed long time residents of Spain, are Welsh by origin. Susan and John are just finishing up a 3 month tour round the Peloponnese and are getting the ferry to Bari the next day. Bound for Sicily as it happens. They’re a fabulous, friendly and well travelled couple with a beautiful big dog whose name I sadly forget. Sorry dog! We all talk the rapid fire “Here’s everything I know about everything!” talk of fellow motorhomers passing on the road. Trying to impart every possible useful thing we can think of before we have to say goodbye. It’s a beautiful thing this sharing, and I count myself truly blessed to have experienced it.
John and Susan had a treasure trove of information for us and we both found ourselves wishing we could have more time with them. They’re a really interesting couple of humans with hearts the size of their massive, friendliest of friendly, dogs. Our dwindling food supplies weren’t giving us much option though. We were going to leave Lidl until Wednesday, but we had to move on to Kyllini and pick up something for tonight’s dinner.
And so here we are, watching the ferries roll in and out to Zakynthos and Kefalonia. The town is winter quiet and quietly likeable. The weather is colder than we’re used to at just 12 to 13 degrees and I’ve finally got a chance to wear the coat Jay bought me for 6 Euro at the market in Nizza di Sicilia so many weeks ago.
We treated ourselves to strange new treats from the Kyllini bakery and delicious Greek wine in a plastic bottle from the little, local supermarket. We entertained locals passing in their cars, by sitting and playing our tunes on a bench near the harbour. And Kefalonia lay watching across the water, as the ferries rolled in. And the ferries rolled out again. Geese and hens grazed in the yard behind us. Dogs barked and cockerels crowed, and the sea shushed, and shushed, and shushed to the shore.
First impressions of Greece? We like it. We like it a lot.