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Up Pompeii

December 26th, 2013 (by Steve)

It shouldn’t be that difficult to catch a ferry. Turn up, get on the boat. Done. Somehow we managed to go to the wrong port in Patras though, then get a little confused about lots of things until we were finally on the correct ferry. Thank goodness the captain wasn’t as confused as us, as we might have ended up in Barry, Wales rather than Bari, Italy! We left Bertha to play hide and seek with the “big boys” whilst we settled down for the night, watching a beautiful sunset before taking advantage of a warm shower (a lovely treat after a few days of wild camping)

Bertha plays hide and seek on the ferry with the big boys

Don’t you love it when you fall asleep in one country and wake up in another? Probably only when you intend to travel to a different country… I guess in other instances it could be quite disturbing…?! In any case, when we woke, we were in Italy (well, Italian waters). After disembarking, we spent a while trying to explain to an immigration officer that the pile of coats in the back of Bertha was just that, and not some random stowaway. Eventually he bought the story (which is just as well!) and we were on our way to Pompei via an extremely beautiful scenic routine. We partially planned it that way, to avoid tolls, but some scenic bits were added bonuses, where our planned route became unsuitable for some reason. Bertha coped valiantly with the steep hills and we admired the Italian countryside, however the journey took a little longer than anticipated. It was dark by the time we arrived into Pompei (the modern city) full of passionate Italian drivers; the air full of the roaring engines of mopeds and the tooting of horns. Bertha sucked her sides in to squeeze through tiny gaps in traffic, guided by the able hand of Kiri at the wheel and we were glad to finally park up under orange trees at our campsite.

The following morning we jumped online to find out how close we were to the archaeological site of Pompeii. It turns out that we should have just looked out of our window; the entrance was literally 2 minutes away by foot. What followed was a bucket list day for Kiri (and probably for me too if I had drawn up a bucket list) as we explored the ancient city of Pompeii.

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It’s mindblowing to think that the streets that you walk through today would have been so similar nearly 2000 years ago when disaster struck. The sheer size and wealth of the city astounded me as well as the level of preservation. I’d (wrongly) pictured Pompeii to be more of a village, but in the 5 hours we were there, we couldn’t get around the whole city… and there’s more that still hasn’t been excavated! I think it’s fair to say that Kiri just loved everything about Pompeii; the level of preservation really helps you to imagine the human aspects of life there in Roman times. We both loved the visible indentations in the stone road surface from wheels that passed over it nearly 2000 years ago.

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It’s also fair to say that Kiri really appreciated the frescos and the vibrancy of the colours still remaining. The digital swatches that she took will, I’m sure, form the palate of any future home we have!

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Before leaving Pompei to head north for Christmas, I wanted to check out a faint whirring/grinding sound that I’ve been hearing since Meteora. In Bertha I mean, not in my joints! I say faint; Kiri can’t even hear it, so maybe I’m imagining things; after all, our fuel economy hasn’t altered in that time and there’s been nothing visibly wrong under the bonnet. So, I took the opportunity at the campsite to get under Bertha and have a good look (ooh, er missus… well, we were in Pompeii… had to get Frankie Howerd in there somewhere!). This is what I found:

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That’s the gearbox. And that’s oil on the outside. Now, as previously established, I may not know much about engines, but even I know that gearbox oil should be inside a gearbox. The second picture (on the right) is after I cleaned up the gearbox and we had driven for a day. We’re currently in the process of asking experts for opinions on it… but most responses are that we shouldn’t be too worried about it! Which is good news 🙂

Following Pompeii, we pootled up the toll road (we’ve learned our lesson!), stopping overnight at a couple of car parks with panoramic views on the way to our Christmas destination, near Orvieto.

Speaking of Christmas, may we wish you all a very happy and peaceful Christmastime (sorry we didn’t get this post up before Christmas day!).

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Touring, not tourists

December 23rd, 2013 (by Steve)

We hate being tourists. Standing in the middle of a square with an oversized map in hand. Looking confused. Getting in everyone’s way. That’s why we try not to be typical tourists when we visit a city. Yes, we like to see the sights, but also the real city. And so it was with Athens. A bus and a metro into the centre of Athens from our campsite (sorry Julien + Anais, we’re not as bold as you; we opted to stay at a campsite rather than brave city “wild camping”… plus the campsite had washing facilities) and we were ready to “do” Athens, our way.

So what does that actually mean? Well, we got a bus into Athens, walked to the Acropolis and had a lovely chat about London with a lady who offered to be our personal tour guide, before we decided the ticket prices were too expensive to go in. From there we wandered north, through an arty area of Athens (Psiri), up to an area where a lot of anti-fascist protestors hang out. There weren’t many signs of them, but there was plenty of fascinating grafitti. After a cheap coffee and pastry, we wandered towards the panathenaic stadium, decided it was worth 3 Euros each to go in and didn’t regret the decision. It would have been worth the money just to look at the collection of Olympic posters and torches they have there. After a lot more walking, we ended the day with a couple of Souvlakis each before heading back to the campsite, 20 Euros lighter than we left, but feeling like we’d had a pretty good overview of Athens.

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The following morning we went to find the washing facilities… only to be told by the owner that they consisted of some 6 Euro washing machines in a launderette 5 minutes up the road. Turns out that hand washing underwear takes quite a while… but once that was done and Bertha was decorated to resemble a laundry, we hit the road, finding a lovely beach to park next to for the night. This actually turned out to be our model for the next few days; hitting the road and finding a beach to park next to, not the hand washing!

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We’d been tipped off that Epidavros was worth a visit, so this was our one other “touristy” visit in Greece and once again, well worth it just for the amphitheatre alone. We’ve concluded that amphitheatres really are the result of architectural, scientific and artistic prowess being smashed together to form something brilliant. I mean they’re great to look at, they’re acoustically mind-blowing and they are created as a stage for artistic expression; they’re brilliant “on so many levels” (to quote an accidental pun of Kiri’s!)

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The day that we travelled up to Patras for our final night in Greece marked exactly a week since we had bought a bag of 64 satsumas for 5 Euros and we were down to our last 2. I’d like to think that the excessive consumption of orange-like fruits led to the moment of madness that then ensued. I saw some oranges for sale by the side of the road. So I bought some. I say some. OK, so we bought a 10 kilo bag of oranges, but they were only 3 Euros! Guess we’ll be eating a lot of oranges in the next few days.

Sadly our 10 days in Greece had to come to an end. As we parked up for the night next to a beach near Patras, we enjoyed watching the windsurfers in front of the Rio bridge. However, we didn’t make the logical connection between windsurfers and wind as quickly as we should, leading to a very windy night. We’ve enjoyed touring Greece and have to say that 10 days is only really enough to give a tiny taste of the country – we would love to return.

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Simple life doesn’t mean easy life

December 16th, 2013 (by Steve)

What if we were doing our trip, but for 3 years instead of 1 and covering not just Europe, but all the way to China… and possibly beyond? Well, sadly we’re not… but we have met some people who are doing just that; Julien + Anaïs.

When we arrived at the hot, sulphurous springs of Thermopile near Lamia, the first thing we spotted was a French campervan and our immediate reaction was “great, another campervan, we’re safe to stay overnight here”. Having had a brief wander to check out the springs, we were just turning Bertha around, when up bounded an enthusiastic guy who introduced himself as Julien and asked whether we were going to bathe. We explained that we were just turning around the van, then we’d have a dip, but we’d have a chat with him later. Julien pointed out the best place to get into the springs, then left us to it; a lovely soak in the stinky water.

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After soaking for as long as we dared in the fumy water, we returned to Bertha, dried off, ate some dinner, then pondered our next move with the French couple… should we knock on the door of their camper and invite them to Bertha for a cup of tea? We were eager to get to know them, but didn’t know how to make the first move. We didn’t have to – Julien appeared at our door and invited us round to Balthazar (their van) for a drink… but warned us we might need a couple of extra jumpers. As Bertha was warm, we suggested they came round to ours… so they did.

Julien + Anaïs (or “Jongle et Aiguille”) are about our age, with a van older than Bertha and they’re 5 months into a 3 year trip towards China. What’s inspiring is the way that they’re doing the trip… they’re so much more laid back than we (i.e. me… Kiri can be pretty laid back!) could ever be. Whilst they have a plan, their philosophy is that if someone suggests that they should go somewhere, they go there! They’re also so much bolder; they are willing to park almost anywhere (they parked on the road next to the presidential palace in Athens for 4 days!) and they will talk to anyone, which has led to them making lots of friends and being welcomed into people’s homes along their way. It’s also giving them some amazing stories to tell. Annoyingly, we were enjoying our time with them so much that we forgot to take a picture of them in Bertha… however they took a picture of all of us in Balthazar later:

With Julien + Anaïs in Balthazar

After going for another dip in the springs in the dark with Julien + Anaïs, we went around to Balthazar to hang out and chat a little more. If there’s one thing that we envy (yes, we know that envy isn’t a good thing) about the way that they’re travelling is that they have time on their hands. I think because we’re trying to fit visiting the whole of Europe into one year, we haven’t allowed ourselves time to fully appreciate countries; we’re just getting a taste. Maybe that’s a good thing though, in that it leaves us wanting to return? We certainly don’t think 10 days in Greece will be enough to take it all in. The main thing that we can learn from them though is to talk to people. Approaching strangers doesn’t come naturally to either of us, but their stories show how much it pays dividends when you’re on an adventure.

And the blog post title about a simple life not meaning an easy life? It’s something that Julien said that stuck with us, because it’s so true. We’re loving a simpler lifestyle; working with fewer resources, carrying fewer belongings and being more in tune with natural rhythms. However it comes with its own complications… you have to work hard to conserve what you have, there’s no routine or normality to fall back on, you’re constantly in new situations and learning new things. And even though you may be having a great adventure, there’s still washing up, clothes washing, tidying, finances and other mundane things to do!

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Simple life? Yes. Easy life? Maybe not. Good life? Definitely!

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On the shoulders of giants

December 15th, 2013 (by Steve)

After our flight from Serbia, via a corrupt official in Macedonia and the cheapest petrol of our trip so far (99p per litre!), we arrived into Greece. The first sight that we were faced with was a toll booth… that was totally derelict. Maybe we won’t be paying so many tolls after all!

We’d planned to spend our first night just south of Thessaloniki, but when we stopped to pick up food in Lidl on the way there, we succumbed to the temptation of stopping overnight in their car park. Well… almost! You see, we’d heard on the grapevine that Lidl are motorhome-friendly, as motorhomers are likely to pop into the shop in the morning to pick up supplies. However, we had no evidence… and after about half an hour of peering through our blinds, we lost our nerve and moved on to our planned destination.

The following morning, we topped Bertha up with all of the things we needed to top up, emptied all of the things that needed to be emptied and drove south towards the coast for our first bit of “wild camping”. We arrived in paradise. A deserted beach with a bright blue sea and a picture-postcard tree up on the cliff. With Bertha parked up, we just relaxed into the surroundings; I did a bit of whittling and Kiri wandered on the beach, collecting shells and stones. As we settled down for the night, we were a little nervous that someone might knock on the door and tell us to move on, so we both jumped when we heard some rattling from Bertha’s main bench. Turns out that some of the shells that Kiri had collected hadn’t been unoccupied… we set the crabs free and the rest of the night was undisturbed.

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From there, we travelled (via a wild goose chase for both cash and petrol) to Vergina; a place that we’d found on Peejay’s Greece stopovers. These POIs (points of interest) are a good addition to our other collections that we’ve been relying on so far to choose our overnight stops. In other countries, we’ve been using campercontact.com, campingcar-infos.com and the ACSI camping card guide. It’s good to have the different sets of POIs; whilst there’s some duplication between them, overall they’ve given us a good selection to choose from. Add to this the travel blogs of previous motorhomers and we’re set; it’s great to learn from the people who have gone before us.

Meteora was the next destination, again from Peejay’s Greece stopovers. Whilst researching Meteora, we realised that we were inadvertently doing exactly the same Greece overnight stops as Jason + Julie at ourtour.co.uk… but in reverse order! Having read accounts of the Pension Arsenis motorhome stop near Meteora at ourtour.co.uk and europebycamper.com, we were ready for just about anything, and weren’t surprised when Kostas rocked up on his scooter, offering us his Mum’s special meatballs and sausages “not from the market”. We agreed to the offer, had a lovely meal and managed to slip out without being invited for quiet drinks with Kostas later (although his Mum did insist on giving us sweets every time she saw us!).

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Meteora itself is stunning (we’ll add photos later!). Totally out of this world. It’s a group of monasteries perched on top of columns of rock, that originally would have been totally secluded, but now are accessible to tourists. We viewed most of them from afar, but went inside one of them to try to get a feel for how the completely opposite worlds of tourism and sanctuary work together. To be honest, we’re still not sure, but we did note that the monks had their own private areas of the monastery and very little is open to the public. I think that increased the respect we have for them. They’re making money from tourism… is that wrong? Maybe they’ve got the balance right; a stream of income, but without compromising community life for themselves; not “selling out” their way of life?

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Are there parallels that we can draw between a monastic way of life and the life of a traveller? There are certainly strands of learning from people who have gone before you as well as being part of a community. Are we over-thinking it? Maybe! So, with food for thought, plus feta, olives, stuffed vine leaves and tomatoes, we headed south.

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