30.06.2015 - 02.07.2015 34 °C
30 June. The start of two months on my own
The plan was to travel by train (about 11 hours) from Milan to Brindisi, stay over and get the ferry to Patras in Greece. I checked the status of the trains the night before and there was a lot of noise about industrial action, delays, cancellations etc so I decided I would just hire another car and drive to Brindisi. This was going to be a 10 plus hour drive but at least I would only be depending on Fiat (who despite my misgivings have served me well so far) and not the Italian Train network. It was a hard slog but I managed to stay awake and get to Brindisi at a reasonable time in the evening.
Stayed in a quite pleasant sc room for the night (B and B Mare Nostrum). Two brothers had a number of rooms around the town which they let out. They were really helpful and friendly and it was cheap. (£32)
1 July. Had to pass some time until the ferry at 8 pm so explored Brindisi. My guide books were quite dismissive of the place but I found it quite charming. They have developed the water front and renovated the old buildings so that it's a very pleasant place to wander around. Most famous landmarks are the two pillars marking the end of the Apian Way from Rome and a beautiful Cathedral. I had a really good seafood lunch (possibly a little too much wine) sitting right beside the ancient columns overlooking the harbour. (Piazetta Colonne Restorante)
The ferry terminal is out of the town and since it was not entirely obvious (from my paperwork and detailed searches on Google) how foot passengers get there I thought I'd better do some investigation. I thought I'd cracked it when I found a foot passenger terminal right in the town by the waterfront. I went into the office to enquire what time I needed to be there for the 8 pm ferry. A very helpful young woman told me that (despite all of the signs and posters indicating that I was in the the right place) the buses to the terminal don't go from there any more and I have to go to the railway station from where buses run every 30 minutes(15 and 45) to the ferry terminal.
Apparently it would be obvious where the buses go from when I got to the station. I didn't believe her (I'm really getting quite cynical) so thought I'd do a test run. I walked the 3 km to the station in 36 degrees., losing a stone in sweat and this without my luggage. There were lots of bus stops and lots of buses but having waited for 45 minutes I could not see any bus to the ferry terminal. I asked at the information office at the station - they knew nothing.
I walked back to see the young lady who had given me this sh*te information and she insisted that it was correct and unless I wanted to pay a taxi 30 euros to take me to the terminal, the buses (costing 1.50 euros) are running from the station. She is sitting in an office which is the information point at the foot passenger terminal which doesn't actually operate any more so why would I doubt her ????
I decided to pick up my luggage early, walk to the station and if the bus didn't show then shell out for a taxi. The walk to the station in the same heat but with luggage nearly gave me a seizure.
I stood around the front of the station from where all the buses appeared to arrive and depart hoping to see one for the ferry terminal. I waited 35 minutes and was about to hail a cab when this young bloke carrying two rucksacks ran past me swearing in English along the lines of "why the f*ck is there no sign for it?" Something told me he might be a fellow ferry traveler so I ran (well hobbled) after him across the bloody rail track down some stairs only to find a bus with "Ferry Terminal" displayed proudly on the front. Oh how we laughed !!!!
After a bus journey of about 20 minutes the young man (27) called Chris from London and I were then dumped in the middle of the port. We could see our ship in the distance but we had to check in at the Grimaldi Ferry Office and it was not obvious where that was. I asked someone who pointed towards a large building about 500 metres away which was right by the ship - seemed obvious really.
Off we trudged, sweating like Geordies in a spelling contest, only to be told that we had to go to another building which was past where we had started from and another 500 metres on from there. We went there and managed to check in but then had to go back to the original building to actually board the ship. I was ready to sign any sort of confession by this point but was saved by Chris emerging with two ice cold beers - people called Chris and beer are inextricably linked.
I had prebooked all of my ferries for the European trip (8 in total) and where they are long trips I had reserved a cabin - except this one as there were none available so I had booked a reclining Pullman seat in the Pullman lounge - numbered so it would be all mine for the 17 hour crossing.
I became slightly alarmed when I boarded and was told by the unsmiling Grimaldi steward that the seat numbers don't mean anything - "just sit where you can".
Chris and I found our way to the Pullman lounge and opened the door only to be confronted by what appeared to be a Gypsy camp. It was absolute chaos. The "very comfortable, well equipped" Pullman Lounge was packed with families including screaming kids and barking dogs. They seemed to have everything they owned with them. Some had spread on the floor and were spit roasting hedgehogs or some other small vermin and I swear a couple of the blokes were trying to sell the idea of tarmacking the deck to someone with a captains uniform on.
We managed to find a couple of seats together - important as we both felt that we may need to keep an eye out for each other and our luggage.
Once we departed, things got better - did they hell! At various points we were approached by some of the kids offering us "food" which we declined. An Aussie in front of us accepted some and then was berated by one big ugly bastard for not paying the kids - he paid.
It was visibly clear where the dogs were peeing and then obvious by the waft of "Eau de Sh*te" that they were not being taken on deck accompanied by owners with dainty little pooper-scoopers when more substantial relief was required.
Chris and I alternated visiting the deck to get fresh air and the cafe to get some food with one of always having "watch" on our stuff. We put up with it for about 7 hours and then both decided that even if the deck outside was a bit colder and damper it had to be preferable. No sooner had we picked up our bags than 2 adults and two kids (who looked like the products of cousins who had married) jumped into our seats. I don't think we were going to get those seats back somehow.
We docked at Igoumenitsa (the only stop on the way to Patras) after about 9 hours and all of a sudden the ship was quiet. All the gypsies got off taking all belongings and animals with them but leaving the Pullman Lounge looking like a bomb had hit it. As soon as we left Igoumenitsa an army of Grimaldi cleaners appeared and after about an hour the Pullman Lounge looked as I suspect it was intended to though the residual smell of disinfectant combined with dogsh*te and burnt hedgehog didn't actually leave my nose for a couple of days.
I asked one of the stewards who our fellow passengers had been. Apparently they are a strange mix of Italian/Albanian/Greeks who travel between all three countries working and living in various places along the way. So - gypos !
Managed to get some sleep for the remainder of the journey (though only in bursts as I was always slightly nervous that they may have left some of their offspring behind) and arrived in Patras at about 2 pm on 2 July.
About 30 minutes before docked, about 50, very fresh faced, clean people appeared on deck. We didn't recognise any of the faces and we realised that these were the people who had managed to book a cabin and been spared our experience. Lucky bastards.
The journey from Maggiore to Patras had taken about 55 hours and I think I had slept for about 14 of those - I was completely knackered
I said goodbye to Chris in Patras (he was going to visit mates in Athens), picked up my tiny hire car (see picture) and drove the 2 hours to Olympia - the start of my tour around the Peloponnese and the famous archeological sites.