Iggy the Hymer motorhome has woken up to a cold, grey morning forty odd kilometres north of Ancona in northern Italy. It’s eight a.m. Greece time, but here in seven a.m. Italy the sun has only just begun to lighten the sky. The air is cold and damp. Fresh with the smell of snow from the unseen mountains to the west. Marley the Greek mountain dog bounds happily through the damp grass, curly tail wagging to and fro across her back. Her wet nose drinks in the fresh clean smells with relish.
“If you like this, you’re going to love Scotland Marley!” I say.
Marley bounces back to sniff along the ancient stone walls of the abandoned church where we stopped last night, and produces a chicken bone from nowhere.
“Marley! Leave!” I sigh as I remove the lethal object from her jaws, replacing it with a small treat. This dog’s propensity for finding things she shouldn’t eat is so astounding we think it may be a genuine Super Power.
“Marley the Wonder Dog! Produces Toxic Meat from Thin Air! Coming to a Town Near You this Tuesday!”
We retreat back to Iggy to bin the chicken bone and turn on the computer. It’s a slow process, but two hours after morning pee I finally manage to put fingertips to keyboard. Morning all!
The transition from the mild and often beautifully warm stirrings of Spring on the Peloponnese to this cold winter morning is a shock to the system, and our last day in Greece feels like a long, long way away. Although in some ways it bore a resemblance to this Italian here and now. It too began with grey skies. Warmer to be sure, but not suggestive of a great end to our Greek adventure. Or so we thought…
We’d spent our last night parked beside a closed down beach bar across the bay from Patras. Close to the city it didn’t have the charm of most of the places we’ve stayed. But there was a long stretch of beach to walk Marley on and it was just a half hour drive to the port in the morning. It was a run down kind of place with a closed down station and rotting trains just up the road. Stray dogs surrounded me as I took photos. One big old guy lifting his leg on Iggy’s wheel seemed to be the new station master. Ownership in his every step and the clear, confident stare of his eyes.
I made a “Hey I didn’t even notice you!” hasty retreat back to the safety of Iggy. I didn’t know how friendly this guy would be towards me, but I wasn’t in any hurry to find out!
As darkness fell another dog pack came out to roam the beach area. All night long they prowled back and forth in the blackness yipping and barking the hours away until morning. For the first time I can remember for a long time the sound of cars from the distant main road roared an occasional human undertone to the yabbering dogs. I missed the quiet.
In the morning we rubbed sleepy eyes and braced ourselves for busy traffic on the drive to the port. We’d waited until after nine to let the morning rush hour subside, but still it was much quieter than I’d expected. It was Monday morning but the roads seemed no busier than they were when we’d arrived a month back on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Maybe it was just always this quiet in winter?
It got no busier as we neared the port area. We spied a Lidl sign and swung into the car park for some bits and bobs for the boat.
“Is it open?” I said to Jay. “The lights are on, but there’s not many cars. And look! The car parks full of rubbish. It’s not a bank holiday is it? Remember the kites yesterday?”
Sure enough the doors were locked when I went to check. A car drove up to me as I walked back to Iggy.
“Is it closed?” called the driver.
I nodded, “Yes. Closed.”
On we drove to the port deciding that this must be a public holiday to follow yesterday’s “Clean Sunday”. A special day in the Lenten calendar in Greece which we had first heard about back in Zakynthos. Judging by the number of people we’d seen with kites yesterday, and the fact there were kite sellers lining the roadsides everywhere, we figured kite flying was one of the associated traditions. Lovely!
Pulling into the port Jay was singularly unimpressed with the level of security. We were aware that Patras attracted so called “migrants”, hoping to smuggle themselves onwards to North Western Europe. But the port authority didn’t seem too concerned about the whole thing. The fence surrounding the embarkation piers was secure, but the terminal building and parking was easy to access. A through road with no security and local joggers and dog walkers casually going about their day around us.
“It’ll be fine. There will be cameras watching and security will respond if they see anything.” I said as we secured Iggy and set off for the terminal building to check in. We had six hours before we could go to the embarkation point, but may as well get the boarding passes now and find out where we were to go later.
It felt monumental somehow when I handed over Marley’s Greek passport along with our two GB ones. There’s always that little “something stuck in the throat” feeling when faced with a passport check in. I’ve ticked all the boxes. I’ve crossed all the “T”s. I know that everything is in order and I have full right of passage. But still…as soon as I give my documents to an official at a checkpoint…
The man glances at the two human passports. A quick flick to the photos. A quick glance at our faces. Now it’s Marley’s turn. He opens the passport and takes his time looking through the pages. Reading the different sections. Did I get the dates wrong? Should I have booked the ferry for tomorrow?
The official looks up with a smile and hands me back the documents and our boarding passes for the boat.
“Five o’clock for boarding. Down there and turn left to the embarkation gates. Good journey!”
The tiny tight lump in my throat dissolves and I grin back at him.
“Efharisto! Yassas!” Thank you! Goodbye!
I walk out of the terminal building a little lighter than I walked in. The first step in Marley’s journey back to Scotland has been taken. A few more hours and she would be leaving the country of her birth behind her. It felt strange to be taking her away without her knowing.
Marley pounced on a stone and tossed it across the pavement. It’s all the one sky to her.
With everything in order we set off along the path marked “Centre” to explore Patras while we waited for embarkation. It’s a pleasant, easy walk from the terminal building into the town. The port footpath exits onto a long strip of park that runs all the way along the shore, past the exquisite St. Andrew’s Cathedral to the lighthouse. People jogged, walked small, fluffy dogs, cycled, strolled, chatted and helped their children to fly kites. Most definitely helped their children to fly kites!
A quick hunt on Google confirmed that this was Clean Monday one of the most important days of the year in Greece. What we thought was going to be a grey, slightly stressful, boring Monday became one of the best days of our trip.
As the day wore on the number of kites flying in the skies above Patras steadily increased. It felt like the whole city was here, smiling, nodding, laughing, chatting on this green strip between city and sea. Everyone was happy. Everyone wanted to pet the Greek puppy. We met George and Margarite, a lovely couple who are preparing to move to Scotland. They have narrowed it down to three locations Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh. ‘Come to Edinburgh and we’ll go for a beer!’ we laugh, giving them our card and telling them to get in touch when they arrive.
The kites, the kites, the kites. I’ve never seen so many kites! Parents take pictures of their children holding this year’s offering. I imagine the albums they will look through as adults. Each year the kite will become slowly smaller in comparison to the child. Finally there will be the picture of them helping their own tiny child to hold their first kite. And so it repeats through the generations.
We walked in delight through this story book world around us. Stopping for lunch to let Marley rest her puppy legs (She is still just three months old after all!) and then grabbing a few things from the next door supermarket for the ferry trip.
On the way back we stopped by St. Andrew’s. A beautiful building from the outside it is one of those places where your breathe catches in your throat as you step over the threshold. “Oh my!”
We had to take turns on the interior as Marley pup would not have been allowed inside. I would have liked to have stayed longer. To drink in the colours, the shapes, the glorious artwork, the organic feel of the shapes. People lit candles, sat in prayer. Nipped in and quickly dropped a knee and back out again. It was a holy day after all. A work day for the church.
Back out in the mild, soft air of Patras we slowly meandered our way back to the terminal. There were just a couple of hours to go now till departure and I thought I could write the blog while we waited. Coffee made and computer ready I sat to write when sirens erupted somewhere nearby. What on earth?
We hadn’t opened the blinds yet. Jay pulled one down to the spectacle of men in camouflage gear piling out of a dark blue van while other men ran towards the Port fence, quickly scaling it and sprinting to join a large group of people outside. It was getting close to departure time for one of the ferries to Italy and “migrants” were trying to board the trucks waiting in the parking area.
We watched from Iggy as police motorcycles herded the groups outside the fence over to the opposite side of the road. As long as they remained there the police were happy and left them be. It was a well rehearsed dance that we witnessed. For everyone present this was a normal part of their everyday lives.
The “migrants” knew just how far they could push. The police were not looking to arrest anyone, only to deter them from gaining entry to the waiting ferries. They danced to and fro. Playing a game. But a game that carried a big prize for the boy who was lucky enough to win. A new life. Work. A home. Money to send back to the family. Safety. Food whenever he wanted. And meanwhile there was the dance. The game of wits. The hope. The dream.
The truck drivers dealt with the ones who made it through. When it was time to go to the gates to be checked they would gather three trucks together and these drivers would help each other to check their vehicles. We watched as a big, burly driver, armed with a large, pointed metal crowbar type instrument opened the tailgates to check for stowaways.
As he opened his own truck two men jumped down immediately and sprinted past us to the fence. Next the drivers climbed inside the trucks and up and over their cargo to check for people hiding in at the back. Two more people came flying out of the truck and raced for the fence. One of them was only a boy, fourteen if he was lucky.
It was time for our own turn at the embarkation gates. We did one more check that all Iggy’s external lockers were locked and there was nobody clinging to the bottom of the van. At the checkpoint we showed our EU passports. All three of them, and were waved through to the next stage, where a soldier checked over the van.
All clear and we were through. Sitting on the pier with our own castaway. Marley the Migrant watching the big red and white ferry to her new life pull in at the pier beside her.
The ramps went down and the usual flurry of activity began. We drove into the hold past trucks driving out. Somehow it all worked out. Chaos, but nobody crashed. Marley shrank as we tried to get her up the stairs from the hold to our cabin. She tried to make a bolt for the open hold doors and the fresh air outside. Poor terrified pup.
Jay scooped her up and carried her up the stairs to reception. From there we took a lift two more decks to the cabin. Finally back in the lift for two more decks to the open area for dogs to be walked in. Darkness had fallen and Marley perked up a bit to be outside in the night air.
It was time to say goodbye to Greece. It had been so much more than we had anticipated. Two had arrived and three were leaving. First step Ancona. And then…?