Thursday, 29 November 2018

Camping & Caravanning Club Escorted Tour Greece, Italy, Austria, Belguim & Home. Part 5.

We completed our escorted tour and said our goodbyes to our fellow travellers on the ferry heading for Ancona. We had decided not to head back to San Marino which was the official end of the tour but to head instead to just outside Ancona on the coast, a much shorter drive. We spent the night at a campsite on the coast, Camping Belamere at Porto Recanti. A very exciting drive to get there as Madam Satnag was obviously under the weather and took us down a track and across a field. A couple of German bikers helped us out with directions!

 As it turned out, it was a very wise decision not to head to San Marinao as it was a blustery cold evening and we experienced our first night of serious rain. We were really rather pleased we had gone for the short drive option and were soon tucked up in a nicely warmed up April.

Our next stop was at Lake Garda, Campeggio del Garda to be precise. Sel and Lyn our tour escorts had suggested the site as a short stay on the way home. We arrived mid afternoon to be greeted at the gate by a bevvy of familiar faces. It transpired that we were not going to be alone at the site as 5 or 6 of our group of travellers soon turned up in convoy. The campsite was quite busy but the weather had improved so we were happy. We were soon settled in. We found a pitch next to the Eurocamp tents, which had finished for the season and could just see the lake and beach if we stood on tip toe. The campsite was quite busy mainly with people on the long trek home.

The campsite was perfectly placed to visit both Verona and Venice, so we booked in for a 4 night stay. The station was a short walk into town.

The next morning found us on the platform waiting to catch the train to Verona. Only 2 stops away, so really handy.

Verona was a beautiful city. Nice and compact so easy to get around. We did the 10 minute stroll into the city from the station.

We were soon in the main square by the Arena di Verona, the huge 1st century amphitheatre in the city centre which is still used.

The City Hall.

Posh shops. Always good to browse around. A great mix of ancient and modern buildings with loads of balconies! Masses of places where Juliet could have stayed! We never did find her balcony, although we saw lots of signs. We wandered along the river bank and crept into some back street churches.

We ate in the town square, a pizza of course, but very nice. Verona is a busy place with lots of tourist groups everywhere.

 We finished the day with a trip on the little train for a city tour. Really good value at only 5 euros each!

The next morning we were up early and on the express train to Venice. Super exciting! Venice was a last minute destination so we hadn't really researched the trip. We arrived in the heart of Venice to a mega busy scene.

There were crowds everywhere along with the canals, street hawkers and porters, fortunately no traffic. We were pleased we had decided to catch the train, parking in the suburbs would have been a nightmare. We set off on foot to get our bearings.

We avoided the gondolas at ridiculously expensive prices, though very picturesque.

 We opted instead for a quiet stroll amongst the back streets and picturesque courtyards.

It amused us to see the washing, out to dry but I suppose they had to hang it somewhere.

There was no avoiding the Grand Canal. We were soon back amongst the clatter and noise.

Everywhere we went in Venice was a picture waiting to be taken.

Musicians and masks on every street corner. We ventured into the Piazza San Marco and went over the Rialto Bridge. Sadly there were massive queues for St Marks Basilica, maybe another time. We had a lovely meal in a small inexpensive back street restaurant before braving the train back to the campsite. We caught the local train back to Pescheria which took a massive 2 hours, stopping at every station, the cheap price made up for the long journey, only 11 euros!  We loved Venice even the noise and the crowds. Another visit called for, perhaps with a bit more planning. At least we would know what to expect another time.

Tomorrow would bring almost the last stage of our journey home. The Austrian Alps, Luxembourg City and then onto Belgium.

With some in trepidation we set out for Austria over the Brenner Pass. The drive was amazing and well worth stepping outside our comfort zone, a first visit to Austria. We got our Vignette for a princely 9 E at the first motorway stop after the Brenner Pass. We were now well into the Tyrolean Alps and we set off across The Fern Pass another spectacular drive. We were heading for Natter see near Innsbruck and another site recommended by Lyn & Sel! We arrived to a picture postcard scene, absolutely beautiful!

The autumn colours were just coming into their own. The site is surrounded by mountains and we were woken up the next morning by the sound of cow bells as they were sent out to the surrounding fields. We were presented with a free bus pass into Innsbruck so we decided to take advantage of it and catch the bus into town.

Innsbruk is another very compact town that is easy to get around in. The bus went straight to the centre. We had a wander about the town it was a Sunday morning so relatively quiet.

The old town was much livelier with more tourists around. We did a bit of shopping.

We went into the Swarovski shop and had a bit of fun browsing the bling.

We restrained ourselves from buying a crystal embellished packet of cereal! Innsbruck is certainly a fabulous place for shopping. We caught the bus back through the mountains and more glorious views.

Everything about Austria was so clean and fresh. Later that evening we whiled away a happy hour or two with Lyn and Sel who had also turned up at Natter See, discussing our various adventures.

The next morning we had to say Auf Widsen Austria, as we were heading ever northwards. Next stop Luxembourg City and Camping Kockelscheuer. Another well placed site on a bus route to Luxembourg City. This site was quite busy with people passing through or coming for cheap fuel. We did manage to fill April up here with the cheapest fuel of the holiday. The campsite was right on the edge of the town next to the Park and Ride.

Luxembourg City has an old and new part with a very steep hill to climb in between. Being really clever they have built a lift between the two with tremendous views on the way up and down. All free of course.

A view through the glass floor "going up". 

It was a long way up!

There was just so much to see in Luxembourg City. Some of the shops were entertaining!

This said it all.

Palaces of course.

We spent a long and happy day tripping around the city and will certainly go back.

Our penultimate stop on the way home was Nieuwpoort in Belguim and Kompascamping. 

We thought we could try somewhere on the Belgian coast as we hadn't been that way before. This site was a bit too far from the sea but nevertheless proved to be a lovely 2 night stop. Just by the canal it was a massive site but there was a very good restaurant and even better, two nights for the price of one. At 12.50 E a night our cheapest stop!

A short walk into town.

We soon found the King Albert 1 Monument and the fabulously moving museum which told the tale of the Great War through some fabulous art work.

We spent another hour or so browsing in the museum which was very quiet. We climbed right up to the top of the monument for views across the city, all new of course because so much had been destroyed.

All too soon our holiday had come to an end. One more night in France and we would be heading for the tunnel and home. A fabulous few weeks.

Where to next, we wondered????

Monday, 26 November 2018

Camping & Caravanning Club Escorted Tour Greece. Athens to Corfu. Part 4.

We were soon on our way to the next rendezvous Athens. We had been briefed about the journey and  it was recommended we make a stop at the impressive Corinth Canal. This narrow 4 mile canal separates the Peloponnese from the Greek mainland. It's construction saved a ship a journey of 185 nautical miles. The approach was not that spectacular but we knew we were getting warmer as we approached the car park on the edge of the canal and saw the crowds.

The canal is an amazing structure. It was dug at sea level and contains no locks. 6.4 k long and 21.4 m wide at the base, it was inaugurated in 1862 by King George 1 of Greece and completed in 1893. Sadly, the canal was never really big enough for larger vessels. Today it is mainly used by tourist boats but remains a popular attraction and 11 000 small boats use the waterway each year.

Saturated in information about the canal, we continued on our way to Athens and steeled ourselves to enter the city traffic. We were heading for Camping Athens in the suburbs, a few miles from the city centre. As we braved the 4 lane dual carriageway into the city, we spotted the campsite on the other side of the road. A quick bit of thinking and ignoring Madam Satnags entreaties to "turn around when possible", we followed our instincts to the next junction and actually managed to turned around. We breathed a sigh of relief as we spotted the site entrance. A bit more wriggling around and we soon settled April safely under the trees.

Our first foray out was to forage for food at the local supermarket. Athens was manically busy but there were a couple of supermarkets within walking distance and a few local bars. We shopped and then slumped in a bar with a cold beer.

Our first trip out the next day was an extensive tour of Athens with a local guide.

First stop was the National Archaeological Museum which houses the largest collection of ancient Greek sculpture. We saw so much, here are a few highlights.

The bronze statue of Zeus or Poseidon.

The Jockey of Artemision. A large Hellinistic bronze of a horse and rider found in a shipwreck off Cape Artemision and dated 140 - 150 BC.

The golden death masks discovered by Heinrich Schliemann in the 19th century dated 1550 - 1500 BC.

Aphrodite Pan and Eros in playful mood! We learnt a lot about ancient Greek sculptures!

My favourite piece, a pair of ruby encrusted bracelets.

We could have spent hours at the museum but we were  soon off to see the highlight of the tour, the Parthenon. Dedicated to the Goddess Athena. Absolutely spectacular and well worth climbing up the marble steps to the top. If you go wear proper footwear!

Completely over awed by the temple, we were soon back to reality as we returned down the hillside and made for the shopping area of Plaka and some refreshment.

Entering Plaka was like going into another world.

We wandered around the back streets, browsing in the myriad of stalls before having the best meal of the holiday in one of the many restaurants. Athens is a very busy place though and care needs to be taken as one of our party found when her handbag was snatched! Nevertheless it was an enjoyable visit and apart from the graffiti which was absolutely everywhere we enjoyed the trip. Not so sure I would be desperate to return to Athens though!

Our next stop on the journey was Delphi. The best place on the mainland. Our campsite was a 100 miles from Athens through some fabulous scenery. Camping Delphi was just outside the town at the top of the hill, with the most amazing views across the valley to the sea and the olive groves. Delphi is on the slopes of Mount Parnassus and was home to the famous oracle. Delphi had to be one of our favourite places and certainly on the "return" list.

The fabulous view from April.

Settled for a few days.

A short dash cam of our drive through Delphi to the campsite.

The campsite could not be in a more beautiful setting, complete with an almost infinity pool.

The restaurant also overlooked the valley. Sel our escort took us on an amazing trek from the campsite up the mountain path to the top the village of Delphi, it was a great walk and one we would certainly do again. We even managed to find the way back on our own.

We also had a guided tour of the Delphi site. I loved the fact that most of the artefacts were still in place in the museum or on site and that restoration had been kept to a minimum.

The Charioteer of Delphi. One of the earliest bronze cast sculptures. It was a shame his arms were incomplete but the detail was exquisite.

The Temple of Apollo. Home to The Oracle. Definitely something in the air here.

Soon our short stay at Delphi was over. We were off to Velos and Camping Sikia Fig Tree only 139 miles away. A bit of real culture next. We were off to visit some of the places where "Mamma Mia" had been filmed on the famous Pelion Peninsula.

Our campsite at Velos was right by the sea on a big site with all the facilities. Another interesting place to find. Driving through Velos was exciting especially the bit when I had to get out of the van to aid the navigation between the parked cars. Den coped very well.

 We were lucky enough to get our own pitch on a lower level all by ourselves. The site was on a picturesque part of the coast with loads of restaurants and bars near by. We had a great meal in a local restaurant along the coast. The sea was warm too. Lots of Germans on this site soaking up the last of the summer rays.

The campsite restaurant.

We sampled the local food from this bar on the beach.

The plane tree over 1000 years old in the small village of Tsangarada in the mountains. There are lots of these trees well visited by the tourists, not so sure how many locals congregate under them these days.

Some of the shops in the village of Makrinitsa. Very touristy but worth a visit. The Pelion peninsular is absolutely beautiful but we were glad we were in a coach as the driving would have been challenging to say the least! How those coach drivers got around the narrow mountain tracks I have no idea. In one village we were a hairs breath away from buildings.

The next part of our Greek saga was to visit the site of the famous Greek monastries at Meteora. Our campsite was in Kalambaka. Meteora which means in Greek "Suspended in the air" is an amazing place. These monasteries are built on sandstone pinnacles rising up over 400 m above the valley. They are now tourist attractions, sadly lacking in monks or nuns I felt, but still well worth a visit. There are masses of coaches visiting each venue so it is hard to get away from the crowds. However, it is still worth a hike up the mountain to get a look. 

I felt the hike down which we did was more impressive although quite a stiff walk. We were glad we wore our boots.

Coming down from the heavens.

I think the "Meteora Experience" was better from the outside. The monasteries did not feel very spiritual inside and I think they had become a parody of themselves, which is a bit sad. More like a Hollywood set than a place of worship. Still well worth a visit for the views if nothing else.

Our final destination in Greece was a 5 day visit to Corfu followed by a return to Igoumenisa before sailing back to Ancona. The trip by sea to Corfu was an education in the Greek management of ferry passengers. The loading and unloading process was somewhat traumatic for some. We were lucky, in our relatively easy to manage 6.3 m panel van. We were so pleased we were not any bigger.

A short dash cam showing our ferry crossing from the port to Corfu.

 The campsite we were heading for in Corfu was Camping Karda Beach near Dassia, a short bus ride into Corfu Town. 

April was soon nestled down amongst the trees and our washing!!

Next stop a trip into Corfu Town.


Very very busy! It would depend on the time of day how many people were in the town. The cruise ships docked in the harbour and the town heaved with visitors. There were masses of bars and restaurants. We had a good wander around.

 Our trip to Corfu included a day trip around the island with a visit to all the main attractions. We spent a morning at the Achillieon Palace learning about the famous Sisi Elisabeth Empress of Greece and all her woes.

We toured Mon Repos where the Duke of Edinburgh was born. The final day on Corfu was spent on a day trip to Albania. Rather disappointing as it turned out! Albania will be worth a future trip.

We did however, enjoy the brief sea crossing to Albania on the hydro foil and the preview of entering a "non-EU" country. Passports shown, stamped and through. It took all of 5 minutes. There's hope after Brexit! 

The approach to Albania by sea was unexpected, the Port of Saranda was much more built up then I had imagined. We spotted a few nuclea bunkers and the landscape we travelled through was pretty barren.

There were quite a few of these littering the landscape.

We did experience an Albanian traffic jam, which sadly meant we were unable to experience an Albanian market as we may have missed the ferry back.

We did get to visit Girokaster and it's fortress, rather over touristy we felt. Unfortunately we didn't get to talk to any Albanians and after a very hurried lunch in a rather presumptuous hotel ( on the 4th Floor no less,) it was time to leave. I think Albania had much more to offer and another visit on our own in the future will be called for. Another longer ferry crossing which was packed and we were back in Corfu.

We enjoyed the visit to Corfu but were very disappointed at the amount of rubbish which was piled everywhere. Corfu is a beautiful place but very over crowded, I'm not sure if it would be on a revisit list ? Maybe.

All too soon, it was another ferry crossing back to Igoumensita and our last stop in Greece. This time the campsite was just 6 miles from Ancona, Camping Kalami Beach. An idyllic spot and just the place to while away our last Greek day.

The beach and water was beautiful. Time to say goodbye to Greece. The driving and scenery was amazing. People were friendly and we did enjoy ourselves. The weather had been absolutely brilliant. Two votes to return.