A Good Start to a Greek Odyssey

7- 10 May 2019

Our month in England flew by, we were so busy. We bounced between appointments with miscellaneous body repair specialists – for both the van and us! Auto-repairers, doctors and dentists worked their magic and we caught up as best we could with friends and family. Our feet didn’t seem to touch the ground and a month was definitely not enough to see everyone we wanted to. And we had a great finish our trip home – 2 celebrations in London. We settled in at a lovely wooded campsite near Bexleyheath, a 25-minute Uber journey from the heart of London. Celebration 1 was our friend Joolz’s 60th Birthday bash in the North Tower of Tower Bridge – how cool! And what a great time we had.

 

Next day was our nephew Ben’s wedding to Becca – a really lovely day for a really lovely couple, the cherry on the top being that his sister, Samantha, is expecting her second in December, around Mum’s birthday. With Daniel & Sinead’s due in November, Samantha & John’s addition to the family will be our ‘Great Number 8′ !

On 7 May we could finally turn our sights on Greece. Emerging from the Channel tunnel mid-afternoon we breathed a sigh of relief at the sudden reduction in traffic – we’ll take the A26 over the M6 or M25 any time. Good to be on the road again. We had 4 days to do the 1,100 mile journey to Ancona and knew we would have to bite the bullet and pay-up to use the fast roads. But surrounded by open countryside, rolling fields and small villages with tall spires at their heart, the only thing to complain about was the tolls. 

Our first night was at an Aire in Champagne, not far from Epernay and all it’s Champagne houses. Set on a hill amidst miles upon miles of vinyards marked with the names of their “Houses” – Moet & Chandon, Bollinger, Lanson etc. Men worked amidst the vines on strange contraptions and special tractors squeezed past us on the narrow, bumpy, pot-holed track up to the Aire.  The sun was shining, the view was great and we felt we had found the sun.

Of course, during the night the rain set in, drumming insistently on the roof, and didn’t let up all the next day. As if to prove a point. Ah well. We left the vineyards of Champagne country behind, our windscreen wipers working hard.  We entered an ocean of huge fields dotted with grain silos, reminding us just how big France is. Occasionally trees would stick up like a row of lollipops in an flat sea of green. Traffic was light and villages closed due to the Victory Day 1944 celebrations that we missed as we stuck to the autoroute. We crossed Départment after Départment – de L’Aube, La Haute Marne, de la Côte d’Or, Jura, Saone et Loire,, de l’Ain, Rhone Alps. Then we neared the Alps and fields of crops changed to hills and rivers. We stopped overnight at an Aire next to a railway track at St Pierre en Fauvigny, fitting snugly between two other vans. We knew we were surrounded by mountains but couldn’t see them because we were inside the clouds. The constant background noise of the rain lulled us to sleep.

And woke us in the morning. But the cloud base had lifted and we could now see the hills around us.

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We followed the valley floor marvelling at the snow on the forested hills, and the water cascading from sheer cliffs as rain and snow-melt created seasonal waterfalls. The lime green of new leaves mixed with the dark greeen of conifers, and villages with chalet-type houses and large log-piles reminded us we were in the Alps.

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We had considered driving over the Alps via the St Bernard Pass but given the hours it would have added and the poor weather we opted for the Mont Blanc tunnel. We headed up through sheer gorges, trees clinging to their sides, and joined the convoy of lorries climbing slowly through the steep switch-backs. The mountain remained stubbornly hidden in clouds. At the toll booth we both had a shock – €168.60, one-way!!! Kate didn’t stop complaining the whole 9 miles to the other-end. 

It was snowing  when we emerged into Italy, as if we had driven between seasons.

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Keen to leave winter behind we drove down through the Valle de Aosta into Piemonte where we rediscovered spring and a broad valley floor that led us to that huge flat corridor that crosses Italy NW to E, the Po Valley. This is one of the most important economic and agricultural areas in Europe and autoroutes and railway lines carry huge volumes of people and goods through Turin, Milan, Parma, Modena, and Bologna all the way to Rimini on the east coast. In sight of the Alps we saw rice paddies filled with water, and maize and wheat seedlings were already growing welll. Just 2 hours after leaving Mont Blanc we were on the outskirts of Milan in our first traffic jam since England. We decided to break free of the Milan-Rimini highway and find a campsite on the coast just south of Venice. We skirted pretty Bergamo perched on its hill, and drove across a landscape now filled with vinyards, newly planted sweetcorn and rippling fields of green wheat. The temperature by now was a lovely 20C and we felt as if we had moved on again, into early summer. Passing south of Lakes Iseo and Garda, and the lovely castle at Soave in Verona with the Alps a continuous backdrop, their snow-capped tops feeding the streams and rivers that flow down into the Po. Further on we identified the Dolomites in the distance, reminding us of a lovely August we spent exploring them.  It felt truly strange to travel in a few hours from the chalets and wood-piles of the French Alps, through the snowy Italian Alps and into the terracotta-roofed villages amiid a lush countryside dotted with the vibrant red of poppies. From winter to summer. Almost worth the exorbitant tolls…

Slightly south of Chioggia with it’s view across the Laguna Veneta to Venice, we reached our beach-side campsite. We had forgotten what these could be like in Italy. Although only one other camper was there, the site was full of caravans, permanently sited which we assume are owned by apartment-dwellers from the cities, their escape in the summer months. Out of season there is a bit of a shanty-town/ghost-town feel to them. In the summer they are vibrant, noisy places filled with chattering Italians, their children, bikes and motorbikes creating a bustle and chaos that is a little bit too much for us! Although we were only 50ft from the beach, we decided we would not stay the 2 nights we originally intended – we would move on in the morning

So we headed south across the Po Delta crossing the many waterways that drain into the Adriatic. The larger ones are lined with shacks with large fishing nets suspended over the water. Off the Autostrada the road condition made us think more kindly of England’s pot-holes and lorry after lorry thundered past us. But we did get to see more of the countryside – men picking lollo rosso lettuce by hand, asparagus on sale at roadside stalls, green fields of barley and oats dotted with bright poppies. We drove tantalisingly close to the micro-state of San Marino before turning up a narrow twisting lane to a lovely little site carved into the hillside near Pesaro.  It’s terraced pitches are surrounded by trees and it was filled with birdsong – and the occasioal roar of motorbikes that seem to like the challenge of the little road’s twists and turns. For the first time, another motorhome just like ours turned up and parked 2 pitches down, necessitating a photo.

In the evening we visited the basic but pleasant little restaurant for dinner – can’t visit Italy without having a pizza – and heaved a sigh of relief. We had finished our dashing and could start dandering. We were an hour and a half from Ancona and our ferry wasn’t until 4.30pm next day. But we realised that gorging ourselves on Game of Thrones in the evening had meant we had probably left it a little late to start planning our Greece Odyssey!

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