Preparing for Greece - The first week of August was kind of slow as we traded email and phone messages with several travel outfits - attempting to put together a reasonable island-hopping trip through Greece to see the 'must-see' destinations. We finally gave up, victims of high prices and transport schedules geared to the 2004 Olympics rather than the islands. We finally settled on a 3-day trip to Rhodes and a ferry thru Athens on opening-day of the Olympics - how's that for planning??
Marmaris to Rhodes - On the first in a soon-to-be long series of ferries, we boarded the short hop from Marmaris to the near-by island of Rhodes. Following WWII, when Turkey unfortunately backed the wrong side, all of the offshore islands were transferred to Greece, thus islands only several miles off its mainland belong to a foreign power. This route is frequented by visa-runners (who must leave Turkey every 90 days to renew their visas) and day-trippers, who only wear a bikini and sunscreen - much of the bikini to be unused once they reach the beaches of Rhodes.
Rhodes - This was a delightful surprise, a beautiful island with lots of tourists and a lot to offer. We had a little confusion with our accommodations, but after that was sorted we had a great time. The Greeks we met were very friendly and helpful on this laid-back island. For 3 days:
In the eastern-most harbor of Rhodes-city we found Boheme, a yacht with our friends Silviane and René and their 2 cats, last seen at Yacht Marina a week earlier. On our last day we drove around the island, vowing to return in the Fall when the tourists are back in their 9-5 jobs.
Ferry Rhodes to Piraeus (Athens) - Quite an experience! This is an inexpensive inter-island over-nighter, and the ship was crammed. Perhaps the fact that is was on its way to Athens the day before the 2004 Olympics started had something to do with it! Bodies were everywhere, on chairs, under stairs, beside the pool, on the wet decks, and under-foot as we tried to get a little sleep in our 'aircraft-like' seats. The TV blared most of the night and we all got a scant 2-3 hours sleep. A free bus-ride and a 5-hour train ride later (crammed with no air-conditioning and uncomfortable seats) we were in Patras, the main Greek seaport for the Adriatic. By the time we arrived in Patras we were knackered (as they say in NZ). Fortunately the Europa Centre, an enterprising restaurant across from the port offered to stow our luggage for the 5-hour wait, hoping we would spring for dinner at their restaurant - we did! The TV offered coverage of the Olympics Opening Ceremony, quite exciting since it was only 150 miles away.
Patras to Venice - By 10 PM when we boarded the Minoan Lines Adriane Palace, we were tired and grubby, but a quick shower and glass of Campari prepared us for the midnight departure to Venice. Since the 2004 Olympics had started all of the TVs aboard had coverage of the events, usually the Greek athletes! The ferry was very nice, with lots of seats, a pool (open on the 2d day) and 'aircraft seats' for sleeping (all rooms were full). The seats were large, yet very uncomfortable - many people decided to sleep on the floor rather than in the seats. Bekah found some friends her age, and card games raged for the 2 days that it took us to reach Venice. We arrived mid-morning, and it was fascinating to cruise into the Venice lagoon in a cruise ship, close by the historic waterfront with a view from the top deck.
Venice - This seemed to be a hit with Bekah, and for 2 days we wandered the narrow streets and canals of Venice, and had even more fun than our previous visit. Some highlights:
Back in London - Up at the crack of dawn (0445 to be exact) to start the trip back to London. We booked our flight with RyanAir at a reasonable time of 0930 - and then found that they flew from Treviso, an airport 30 miles from Venice rather than the main airport of San Marco. Thus, an early start plus a vaporetto and bus ride to the near-by town. But all went well, and by noon we were back in our rooms at the Balmoral House Hotel in London, where we started 2 months earlier.
Seeing Bekah off - A quick train ride to Heathrow airport the next morning, and Bekah finished her 2004 European adventure, tired and loaded down with souvenirs for her friends back in Oregon. American Airlines was quite friendly and efficient at this end, and at boarding time we handed her over to Steve, a friendly AA employee who assured us he would get her safely on board her non-stop flight to Los Angeles where her mom had promised her a day at Disney Land on her return.
Preparing to visit France and Spain - We are sad to see Bekah leave, but we must now prepare to cross the English Channel in the next couple of days, pick up our van and resume our 2004 tour of Europe, with France, Spain, Switzerland in our sights.
Calais - Our friends left our motor-home in Calais, France - a long stone's toss from the white cliffs of Dover. So we hopped a train from London to Dover, shuttle bus to the port and within a couple of hours were on our way to France. we chose SeaFrance for our 2-hour trip across the English Channel, and found it shabby with indifferent food. When we showed up at the caravan park (after one false stop) the guy compared us to a photo that Dee and Lee had left, and pointed us to our van. Our friends had left it cleaner than we had ever seen it, and fully stocked with food, snacks, and wine - we were thrilled!
Vehicle Inspection/Registration - The bureaucratic process for vehicles in the UK requires a yearly inspection (MOT) and Road Tax (registration). There appeared to be no way to do this outside of England, so we scheduled a ferry and returned to England the next day to pay our dues. A headlight alignment and alternator later, plus a few pence to the Royal Treasury, and we were legal for another year.
Visit with John and Peggy - Last year when we visited the UK to buy our van, we met John and Peggy, parents of our wonderful British friend Sandra. So, we had to stop by and say Hi, and then stay for 3 days as it turned out. They look wonderful and we had a good time in their small town home in Ringwood, surrounded by flowers and a garden meticulously maintained by John. After a pleasant evening at the local pub, we headed off to Calais, and the English Channel.
Tom Skelly - A coworker of Bob has emigrated to England, married an English lass, and has been keeping the Air Traffic Control system in operation for the last few years. As we were traveling through Greece we got an email that Tom was in the hospital with a life-threatening infection in Southampton, only a few miles from Ringwood. After making contact with Valerie, his wife, we stopped by to see him and were gratified that he had improved substantially - so much in fact that he was sitting up (first time in 3 weeks) and speaking (also the first time in 3 weeks).
Back to Calais - We had bought a return ticket that required us to travel before 0700, so we looked for a convenient place to settle near the ferry terminal - no luck! It seems that no caravan park has seen the potential of catering to the thousands of campers that cross the channel between Dover and Calais each year - amazing. So we parked on a city street, with a harbor view - for free. In the morning we boarded the P&O Ferry, with no checking of papers or passports.