Iggy the Hymer motorhome has found himself another stunning stopover on the seemingly endless stretch of Neochori beach. (N37.43043, E21.65508) As I write Jay is still sleeping, and Marley is pleading boredom after our customary sunrise stroll along the sand. I am filled, this morning as every morning, with an intense, yet peaceful, joy at being here. Amplified this morning by the knowledge that this is our last full day in Greece.
Today is Sunday. The twenty ninth day since we arrived, dogless, on the ferry from Bari. The seventh day since we arrived back at the Peloponnesian port town of Kyllini after our two weeks in Zakynthos.
“It’s getting a bit like Groundhog Day!” I remarked to Jay as we pulled into our, by now, customary spot near the harbour.
I really hadn’t wanted to stay here again (it was three times now!) but it was too late in the day to do any more driving. If we just stopped now I could do a bit of route planning for the rest of our journey.
Our original plan had been to spend about six weeks in Greece and then another six travelling home via Sofia, Budapest, Prague and Berlin. But now we had Marley we had decided it would be better to go home a bit earlier. First of all we don’t like travelling around with her without a budget set aside for her care. And secondly we wanted to get her back and accustomed to our two youngest grandchildren ( Darrell will be one in March, and Hope is two in April) before she gets too used to the idea that “family” is just the two of us and her. And DM of course!
With that in mind we were looking at cutting the journey short, and I was wondering if it might be an idea to re route and drive up through Albania instead. I put a few feelers out on some motorhome groups I’m a member of. I’ve seen a lot of stories about the roads in Albania being impassable without a four wheel drive. Was this true? Had anyone driven right through from Croatia to Greece? Was it doable?
The answers that came back were all good news. Quite a few people had driven that route in the last two years and all reported that it was driveable with due care and attention. Excellent! There were less mountains this way so we could set off earlier without worrying about snow blocked mountain routes in countries less invested in keeping the passes clear. The plan was coming together nicely until…
Until someone on our Hymer group suggested I double check that Marley wouldn’t need the rabies blood test done for passing through Albania and Montenegro. What? No! I hadn’t even thought about pooch’s right to travel. Silly of me as I was well aware that I would need to have it done for Morocco later in the year. I just hadn’t thought about needing it in Europe.
We’ve learned a lot about pet passport requirements in the last three weeks. But as we knew nothing about them before it’s been a pretty steep learning curve – and we’re still not used to the fact that we have to check every country to see what the entry requirements are for Marley. And also what the re-entry requirements are for the UK after she’s been there.
Basically to get into the UK she needs to have been micro-chipped, passport issued and an initial rabies vaccination done twenty one days prior to entry. The vaccination has to be done on the same day or later than the microchip. This is valid if she’s coming from any other EU country, or any of the so called “listed” countries. ( You can see all the info and the “list” on the government website here.) In addition to this dogs must be given a tapeworm treatment by a vet between one and five days before the time of their arrival in the UK.
If the country the dog is travelling from isn’t on the approved list then a blood test has to be done to check for rabies antibodies – to make sure the vaccination is working. The test can’t be done until four weeks after the vaccination, and then the dog has to wait for a further three months before it is allowed entry to the UK.
Our question now was ‘Is Albania a listed country?’
A quick two minutes on Google and we had the answer we didn’t want to hear. No. Albania was not. And neither was Montenegro for that matter. Darnation! Back to plan A, and the route up through Bulgaria and Serbia…Uh oh! Serbia isn’t in the EU either. Was it on the list? Surely Serbia would be on the list?
And the answer to that was a big fat, resounding ‘No!’
Ninety percent frustrated, and ten percent really thankful we’d found all this out before blithely heading into Serbia and getting stuck there for three months, I went back to the drawing board. I had originally thought about driving back through Bulgaria and then into Romania. This was the only land route option available to us without the three month wait for the blood test. It was either that or get the ferry back to Italy. And we did not want to do that! But what about the mountains? I figured Bulgaria would be just about doable. But what about Romania?
Google and read. Google and read. The results were really not encouraging. Report after report about the poor condition of the roads, the terrible driving ( though Greece is worse according to WHO) and the lack of snow clearing on the mountain routes in winter.
The road conditions and driving practices we were okay with. We’ like nice roads and careful, considerate drivers very much, but it really limits where you can travel to if you start getting too fussy about stuff like that. But poor conditions on snowy, icy mountain roads was another matter. We’ve not done a snowy mountain with Iggy yet and we weren’t sure Romania was the best place to start. But all those places we wanted to go! All those things we wanted to see!
If I’m going to be honest here it was with a fair bit of, ‘See you Dog!’ that I typed “Ferry Patras to Italy” into the Google search box.
Marley felt me looking at her and perked her head up. Her little curl of a tail thumping to and fro across her back. As I always do I flashed back in my mind to scanning that rubbish in the parking lot outside Olympia. To the sheet of white card that metamorphosed into a dirty, little white puppy before my eyes.
Missing our planned trip was something I could live with. Being the person who left her there when I could save her was not a place I wanted to visit. Something had happened that day when our eyes met in that coach park. Everything that followed just had to be rolled with. Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary etc…that was our old life. Our new life was a ferry to Ancona. Best to just deal with that and carry on.
Bad attitude firmly put back in it’s place I started my ferry research. The first bit of good news was it’s exactly the same price to get a ferry from Greece to the North of Italy as it is to the South. The extortionate price we’d paid to come over from Bari didn’t seem nearly as bad when the same money was taking us all the way to Ancona.
The next bit of good news was that there were pet friendly cabins on the boat! Marley would not have to go in a kennel!
This really was fantastic news as with her history of abandonment we really didn’t want to put her through the trauma of sticking her in a kennel for the twenty one and a half hours of the voyage. The not so good news was that it was just shy of 500 Euros for the tickets. That was about our entire diesel costs from where we were to Edinburgh taking our planned route. We would save a bit on diesel by going this way, but not a huge amount. Our travel wallet whimpered and tried to hide down behind the sofa cushions.
We decided to sleep on it and make a definite decision in the morning before going in search of a launderette. We’d planned on a house keeping day after Olympia – nearly three weeks ago – and it hadn’t happened. With no launderettes or campsites open on Zakynthos during the winter we were starting to look even more like raggedy travellers than usual.
Marley had been sick over all her bedding when she had her bad tummy on the island. Jay had rinsed it all out with seawater and dried it in the sun, but she couldn’t use it until it got a proper bath. Our lockers were full of salty bedding, yucky, doggy smelling towels and two sofa throws she’d been given as blankets and then promptly peed on. We needed a launderette!
The next day the rain was back with a vengeance. As we set off through the torrential showers for Kalamata Marina we talked through our route options one more time and reached a definite decision. The ferry to Ancona it was. And after that we would just head home. It wasn’t all bad…we could be back in time for Darrell’s first birthday on the nineteenth of March. Every cloud and all that…
I pumped our details into the Direct Ferries website again – Revolut card ready to pay in my hand. But hang on…what was this? The price had gone down overnight. Excellent news! By procrastinating the night before we’d just saved ourselves over 50 Euros. It still worked out to £387.95 that we hadn’t planned on spending, but it was a lot better than what we thought it was going to be.
Marley had to officially wait until Monday the 19th before she could leave the country. There didn’t seem much point in hanging around any longer now that the decision had been made to leave. Our wallet had taken another knock. It was going to be cold up North whether we went in one week or two. Let’s just get on with it and head on home.
And so it is that we find ourselves here on the beach this morning looking at our maps to decide where we’re going to spend our last night in Greece.
I have wanted to come here for many a year, and it has certainly been an adventure. Not the adventure we were expecting, but an adventure nonetheless. A bigger one by far, and one that has rewritten our three lives and sent us spinning on paths none of us would have followed otherwise.
And this is what travel, in it’s purest form is all about. It is not the destination that is important but each, tiny step we take along the path. Life offers us opportunities and it is our choice to take or them or pass them by. And this is what I saw in those two button eyes gazing frankly into mine from a pile of rubbish near Olympia. Life knocking. Questioning?
‘Here. I have something for you. A fork in the path. Which will you choose? The left? Or the right…?’